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Lawsuit Alleges Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis Resulted From Talcum Powder Exposure

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Johnson & Johnson continues to face a growing number of product liability lawsuits claiming that talcum powder exposure caused ovarian cancer among adult women who used Johnson’s Baby Powder, Shower-to-Shower Powder or other products for years before their diagnosis.

In a complaint (PDF) filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, Geraldine Zolonoski indicates that her June 2009 diagnosis was the direct result of frequent use of the talc-based powders for nearly her entire life. However, she argues that the statute of limitations was tolled until she recently discovered that her prior use of the products was linked to a risk of ovarian cancer.

Zolonowski was born in 1949, and indicates that her mother started applying Johnson & Johnson talcum powder when she was infant, and she continued to frequently apply it on a daily basis throughout her life.

As a result of the talcum powder exposure, Zolonowski indicates that she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in June 2009, and has undergone chemotherapy, a left pelvic lymphadenectomy, right pelvic lymph node biopsies, periaortic lymphadenectomy, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, lysis of adhesions, and operative laparoscopy. The lawsuit claims her cancer is a “direct result” of talcum powder exposure.

Although studies have shown an association between talc and ovarian cancer since at least 1971, the complaint notes that Johnson & Johnson has never warned consumers, meaning some women continued to apply the powder to their genitals even after receiving a cancer diagnosis and Zolonowski remained unaware that the talc powder caused her cancer diagnosis.

“Defendants had a duty to know and warn about the hazards associated with the use of the Products,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants failed to inform customers and end users including the Plaintiff of the Products known catastrophic health hazard associated with the use of the Products. In addition, Defendants procured and disseminated false, misleading, and biased information regarding the safety of the Products to the public including the Plaintiff and used influence over governmental and regulatory bodies regarding talc.”

The claim joins thousands of other Johnson’s Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits pending in courts nationwide, which make similar allegations that Johnson & Johnson and Personal Care Products Council have known for decades about the potential link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, yet failed to warn consumers.

Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, all talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuits are consolidated for pretrial proceedings as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL), which is centralized before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in the District of New Jersey.

A number of cases have already gone to trial at the state level, with several resulting in large verdicts for plaintiffs diagnosed with ovarian cancer or mesothelioma. In June, a jury awarded a $325 million verdict for failing to warn about the risk of mesothelioma from talcum powder. In addition, last year a Missouri jury returned a landmark $4.7 billion verdict for 22 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Johnson & Johnson is appealing each of the prior verdicts, and previously indicated that it intends to continue to fight the cases at trial.

Following recent hearings before Judge Wolfson, if the Court determines that plaintiffs have sufficiently reliable evidence about the link between talcum powder and cancer to proceed to trial under federal rules, it is expected that a small group of federal “bellwether” cases will be set for trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

While the outcome of these test trials will not be binding on claims filed by other plaintiffs, they may have an influence on any negotiations to reach talcum powder ovarian cancer settlements, and avoid the need for thousands of separate trials to be scheduled nationwide.

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