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Baby Powder Leads to Ovarian Cancer - and Multidistrict Litigation

Behind the $55 Million Talc Verdict: J&J Knew About Cancer Risks Since the 1970s

The emergence of talcum powder lawsuits and multidistrict litigation comes in sharp contrast to the generations-old image of the gentle application of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder on a baby’s bottom. What was once seen as a loving gesture and rite of passage for young mothers everywhere in fact is more than a basic hygiene: it is a deadly carcinogenic agent linked to a 30% increase in ovarian cancer.

Multidistrict Litigation

Women of all ages have applied the sweet-smelling talcum powder after a shower or bath. Now, these women are coming together in the baby powder lawsuits that are starting to form, with filings across several different states. With more cases filed – and several major cases already adjudicated – these suits will likely form the basis of a new MDL (multi-district litigation docket).

DL proceedings allow cases to be expedited through pre-trial proceedings by a single judge. From there, a few early bellwether trials may be scheduled to expose possible weaknesses in the legal arguments and set a precedent for the remaining talc cancer lawsuits. Bellwether trials test a case on a widely-contested issue and are considered “trial” cases.

Sometimes large settlement offers are made after an MDL is formed. Other times, the cases are remanded back down to the lower state courts to proceed as individual trials.

Liability Already Found

For the second time in three months, jurors blasted Johnson & Johnson with an 8-figure verdict on May 3 in a trial charging that the company knew that its talc-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower Powder causes ovarian cancer, and failed to warn women who used it.

Talc was found in the ovarian tissue after a hysterectomy of the plaintiff, Gloria Ristesund of Sioux Falls, SD, in the latest verdict in St. Louis. The jury awarded her $55 million ($5 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitives).

She was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 after using J&J’s talc-based feminine hygiene products for almost 40 years. The case is Hogans v. Johnson & Johnson, 1422-CC09012, Circuit Court, St. Louis City, Missouri, filed by 64 plaintiffs. The case charges J&J with fraud, negligence and conspiracy.

In February 2016, a Missouri jury awarded a $72 million verdict to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer. After more than three decades of using talc-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products manufactured by defendant Johnson & Johnson, Plaintiff Jacqueline Fox died in October 2015 at the age of 62.

The verdict included $62 million in punitive damages against the manufacturing giant in response to the company’s alleged misconduct, including allegations of fraud, negligence and conspiracy. Plaintiffs claimed that the company knew for decades about the cancer risk posed by its talcum powder products, but never alerted the public, the medical community or regulatory agencies about the risks.

Researchers have asked 2,041 women with ovarian cancer and 2,100 similar women without ovarian cancer about their talcum powder use. Those who said they routinely applied talc to their genital area, feminine products, and underwear were at 33% higher risk of ovarian cancer, the study showed.

Author Dr. Daniel W. Cramer, who heads the Obstetrics and Gynecology Epidemiology Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, has unsuccessfully called for warning labels on talcum powder in the past. Cramer first reported a link between genital talc and ovarian cancer in 1982.

“This is an easily modified risk factor,” he said. “Talc is a good drying agent, but women should know that if it’s used repeatedly, it can get into the vagina and into their upper genital tract. And I think if they knew that, they wouldn’t use it.”

Cramer has testified as a paid expert in various lawsuits against talcum powder manufacturers.

Women with ovarian cancer who feel that they were victims of manufacturer negligence should seek representation from an experienced talcum powder lawyer. It costs a plaintiff virtually nothing to file a talcum powder lawsuit. The payment of legal fees is typically contingent on winning a settlement or jury award.

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