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A lifetime of using Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower led to the death of a New York woman, who was diagnosed with metastatic ovarian cancer caused by talcum powder exposure, according to allegations raised in a recently filed product liability lawsuit.
Vanessa M. Viele-Russo brought the complaint (PDF) in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York on October 30, pursuing damages on behalf of the estate of her mother, Denise M. Viele, who died of ovarian cancer in January 2014.
According to the lawsuit, Denise Viele, born in 1952, used Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower for nearly her entire life. In December 2009, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and she died from the metastatic cancer on January 13, 2014.
Viele-Russo indicates that her mother’s death resulted from use of the Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products, claiming that Denise Viele represents a generation of women brought up with the belief that those products were safe and should be used on their genitals for feminine hygiene purposes.
“When Decedent was an infant, her mother applies Shower to Shower, and J&J Baby Powder to her,” the lawsuit notes. “As she grew up, and throughout her life, Decedent continued to use the products daily.”
Although studies have shown an association between talc and ovarian cancer since at least 1971, the complaint notes that Johnson & Johnson failed to warn women using their products, causing consumers to continue applying the powder around their genitals, even after receiving a cancer diagnosis. The lawsuit indicates that Denise Viele remained unaware that the talcum powder caused her cancer diagnosis.
The complaint was brought just days after the manufacturer was forced to issue a Johnson’s Baby Powder recall, impacting 33,000 bottles from a lot that the FDA discovered was contaminated with asbestos. The asbestos was detected in a bottle purchased from an online retailer, upending years of claims made by Johnson & Johnson that talc contained in Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower powder do not contain the cancer-causing substance.
Viele’s claim joins about 13,000 Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits filed by women nationwide, each involving similar allegations that the talcum powder products caused the development of ovarian cancer, as well as the asbestos-linked disease mesothelioma.
The company also faces a criminal probe into what it knew about asbestos being in its talcum powder products and when it knew it.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, all talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuits are currently 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.