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According to the latest court records, Johnson & Johnson now faces talcum powder lawsuits brought by more than 30,000 people throughout the United States, each involving similar allegations that products like Johnson’s Baby Powder or Shower-to-Shower caused ovarian cancer, mesothelioma or other injuries.
Johnson & Johnson has been besieged by litigation in recent years over the popular talc-based powders, and a number of state-court juries have already awarded millions in damages against the company for failing to warn that the products may be contaminated with asbestos fibers, which increase the risk of cancer.
Given common questions of fact and law raised in the lawsuits, consolidated pretrial proceedings have been established in the federal court system for all Johnson’s Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits, which are currently centralized before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in the District of New Jersey, as part of an MDL or multidistrict litigation.
According to a joint status report (PDF) filed by the parties on May 10, there are currently 26,695 cases pending before Judge Wolfson in the MDL, involving 27,061 individual plaintiffs. In addition, the parties report that more than 3,000 other cases are pending in various state courts nationwide, including California, Delaware, Missouri, New Jersey, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Arizona, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia.
Most of the complaints involve allegations that adult women developed ovarian cancer from Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products, after years of applying it around the genitals for “feminine hygiene”. However, a small percentage of the claims also involve former male and female users diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is a rare and deadly form of cancer that is only known to result from exposure to asbestos particles.
Although Johnson & Johnson has continued to maintain that the talc-based powders are safe and do not cause cancer, the company has failed to consistently defend the products in various state court lawsuits that have gone before juries.
In a landmark trial that went before a Missouri jury in July 2018, the company was hammered with more than $2 billion in damages awarded to 20 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, including punitive damages intended to punish the company for recklessly disregarding the health and safety of consumers. That verdict was recently upheld on appeal by the highest court in Missouri, and Johnson & Johnson has only one avenue remaining to avoid paying the verdict, hoping that the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to hear that case, which many consider a “hail Mary.”
In the federal court system, Judge Wolfson has issued a series of pretrial rulings about the admissibility of plaintiffs’ expert witness testimony over the past year, which has cleared the way for the first cases to start going before federal juries. As a result, the parties are currently preparing a group of “bellwether” cases for trials, which may begin by early next year.
While the outcomes of these “test” trial dates will not be binding on the more than 30,000 plaintiffs presenting claims, they will provide a strong gauge for how juries may respond to evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the claims and may have a significant influence on the amount Johnson & Johnson may have to pay for talcum powder ovarian cancer settlements, if the company wants to avoid thousands of individual trial dates in U.S. District Courts nationwide in the coming years.