Talcum Powder Warnings Could Have Prevented Ovarian Cancer Death, Lawsuit Claims

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If Johnson & Johnson had provided warnings about the cancer risks associated with talcum powder, an Illinois family indicates that their mother never would have applied the product around her genitals, and could have avoided an ovarian cancer diagnosis that took her life last year.

The complaint (PDF) was filed last week by Michelle Hilligoss in Delaware Superior Court, on behalf of herself and her mother, Betty Deem, who used Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower to dust her perineum from childhood until 2015.

Regular dusting with the popular talc powder products allegedly caused Deem to develop ovarian cancer, which was diagnosed in November 2015 and resulted in her death on March 5, 2017, at the age of 71.

The wrongful death lawsuit indicates that Johnson & Johnson and other defendants named in the complaint should be held responsible for the loss, alleging that the manufacturers failed to warn women and the medical community about the talcum powder ovarian cancer risks, despite decades of evidence.

“[B]eginning in at least 1982, Defendants were aware of several studies that demonstrated that women who used talc-based baby powder in the genital area had a significant increased risk of ovarian cancer,” the lawsuit states. “However, Defendants do not warn or otherwise inform consumers anywhere, including on the product labeling or in their marketing or advertising for the product, that use of their products may be harmful to health, including significantly increasing the risk of ovarian cancer.”

Johnson & Johnson faces several thousand similar Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits, each raising allegations that talc contained in the products migrated through the vagina following regular and long-term use, causing the development of ovarian cancer.

In state court litigation, Johnson & Johnson has already been hit with a number of multi-million dollar verdicts, including a verdict of $417 million in August 2017, $70 million in November 2016, $55 million in May 2016 and $72 million in February 2016.

While the victories are a likely indicator of how juries will continue to respond when the cases go to trial, the $72 million verdict was recently overturned on appeal, based on jurisdictional arguments about its filing in a Missouri Court in St. Louis, since the plaintiff was not a resident of the state. The recent appeal victory raises questions about whether several of the other verdicts may need to be re-tried in the federal court system.

Given similar questions of fact and law presented in other cases filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, centralized pretrial proceedings have been established in the District of New Jersey, before U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson.

Known as a multidistrict litigation (MDL), the federal cases have been centralized to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different Courts and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and judicial system.

Johnson & Johnson has maintained that it does not intend to offer talcum powder ovarian cancer settlements for women and families, yet the size of several early jury verdict suggests that the company could face staggering liability if it does not reach a resolution for the litigation.

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