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According to allegations raised in a recently filed product liability lawsuit, an Alabama woman indicates that she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after regular user of Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower for nearly two decades.
The complaint (PDF) was filed by Eileen Dougherty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on January 3, alleging that Johnson & Johnson and the Personal Care Products Counsil failed to warn for decades that talcum powder may cause ovarian cancer.
The case joins nearly 15,000 Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits filed by women nationwide, each raising similar allegations that the manufacturers knew or should have known about the ovarian cancer risks from talc as early as the 1970s, yet provided false and misleading information to consumers nationwide, encouraging use of the products among adult women for “feminine hygiene”.
Dougherty indicates that she regularly dusted her perineum with Baby Powder or Shower-to-Shower talc-based products from January 1991 to at least December 2014. In February 2018, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 49, indicating that she may have avoided the injury if earlier warnings and information had been provided.
“In 1971, the first study was conducted that suggested an association between talc and ovarian cancer,” the lawsuit notes. “Since 1982, there have been more than twenty-seven (27) additional epidemiologic studies providing data regarding the association of talc and ovarian cancer. Nearly all of these studies have reported an elevated risk for ovarian cancer associated with genital talc use in women.”
As recently as December, a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found talc in the tissues of all of the women they tested with serous ovarian cancer, indicating that inhaled asbestos fibers contained in the powder were also found in most cases, and that those fibers matched those found in samples of cosmetic talcum powder products.
Johnson & Johnson was forced to issue a Baby Powder recall that impacted tens of thousands of bottles in October 2019, after the FDA detected sub-trace levels of chrysotile asbestos, contradicting years of claims by Johnson & Johnson that their products do not contain the cancer-causing fibers.
The findings have upended years of claims by Johnson & Johnson that their talc-based powder does not contain asbestos or pose a cancer risk for consumers.
Talcum Powder Litigation
Given common questions of fact and law raised in complaints pending throughout the federal court system, the talcum powder litigation has been centralized before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in the District of New Jersey, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.
Following a series of hearings earlier this year, Judge Wolfson is currently weighing challenges filed by Johnson & Johnson over the admissibility of expert witness testimony linking talcum powder to ovarian cancer, determining whether the findings are sufficiently reliable under the federal standard. Some of those witnesses were involved in this latest study.
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.