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As the U.S. District Judge presiding over thousands of Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits continues to evaluate the strength of expert witness opinions about the risks associated with the Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products, attorneys representing plaintiffs indicate that four new peer-reviewed studies have been published since oral arguments were presented earlier this year, which support their position that talc powder can cause ovarian cancer.
Johnson & Johnson currently faces more than 14,700 product liability lawsuits pending in the federal court system, each involving similar allegations that the manufacturer failed to warn about the link between talc powder and ovarian cancer, which can occur following regular application of the powder by adult women.
Given common questions raised in the complaints, the litigation has been centralized before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in the District of New Jersey, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.
Prior to scheduling the first federal court trials, Judge Wolfson is considering challenges to the admissibility of proposed expert witness testimony, to determine whether the opinions expressed are sufficiently reliable under the federal Daubert standard to allow juries to hear the cases.
In July, Wolfson heard seven days of live testimony during Daubert hearings, and also received written statements from both parties, summarizing their respective positions on whether various expert opinions on the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer meet the required federal standards for the witnesses to testify at trials.
New Studies Strengthen Talc Ovarian Cancer Link
In a letter (PDF) sent to Judge Wolfson on December 24, plaintiffs’ attorneys outlined the findings of four new peer-reviewed publications, which they indicate provide further support for the general causation opinions that would be provided by their experts. Two of the studies were released as recently as this month.
One of the studies was published ahead of print on December 23, in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, finding that talc in the tissue of nine out of 10 serous ovarian cancer patients who used Johnson & Johnson products prior to the diagnosis. Asbestos fibers were found in the tissue of eight of the 10 patients.
“The unique combination of the types of asbestiform minerals detected in cancerous tissue and ‘cosmetic’ talc is a fingerprint for exposure to asbestos-containing talc,” the researchers determined.
Another study, published on December 19, warned that researchers found a 9% increased risk of ovarian cancer among women who used talcum powder, which they deemed to be statistically significant.
Johnson & Johnson has rested much of their legal defense on the hope that plaintiffs’ expert witnesses will be excluded under the federal standard, after a number of state court juries have previously hit the company with massive damage awards after being presented with the evidence at trial.
If the manufacturer is unable to disqualify plaintiffs expert witnesses in the federal court system, it is expected that Judge Wolfson will schedule a series of “bellwether” cases for early trial dates, to gauge how juries respond to certain evidence and testimony that is presented in the federal litigation.
While Johnson & Johnson has maintained that they intend to defend the claims at trial, there will be substantial pressure on the manufacturer to consider negotiating talcum powder cancer settlements for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, or it could face massive liability from individual juries at trial in U.S. District Courts nationwide in the coming years.