Opening arguments in Missouri’s fifth trial involving the alleged link between Johnson & Johnson talcum powders and ovarian cancer began Tuesday, with a Plaintiff’s attorneys telling jurors that the healthcare products giant placed its desire to protect profits over the safety of its customers.
“This case is about corporate profit and maintaining a corporate image over human life,” the lawyer said, according to CVN.com broadcast of the trial. “That’s what this case is about. And your verdict could prevent potentially hundreds of thousands of women from contracting one of the most deadly forms of cancer.”
The talcum powder lawsuit currently at trial was filed on behalf of Lois Slemp, a 61-year-old woman from Virginia who suffers from Stage III(c) ovarian cancer. She recently experienced a recurrence and metastasis to her liver, prompting her attorneys to ask that the case be advanced for trial due to her declining health.
Slemp claims that Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower products were a regular part of her daily feminine hygiene routine for more than 40 years, and asserts that the regular and repeated application of the talc-based powders to her genitals contributed to the development of her cancer. Her lawsuit cites numerous studies dating back to the 1970s that suggest the existence of such a link, as well as internal Johnson & Johnson documents that purportedly show that company officials were aware of this research. Yet the company allegedly engaged in an intense lobbying campaign to ensure regulators did not declare talc a carcinogen.
Johnson & Johnson is named a defendant in more than 3,000 talcum powder lawsuits involving its Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower franchises. More than 1,000 of those claims are pending in Missouri’s 22nd Circuit Court, where the Slemp trial is currently underway.
The Missouri talcum powder litigation has convened four trials over the past year. So far, Johnson & Johnson has scored only one win, in a case that concluded in March. The most recent plaintiff’s victory came in October, when a woman from California was awarded $70 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $55 million to a South Dakota ovarian cancer survivor in May, while the family of an Alabama woman who died of the disease was awarded $72 million in February 2016.
Talcum powders lawsuits have also been centralized in New Jersey, Delaware and California state courts. California is scheduled to convene its first trial in July. Like Slemp, that plaintiff was granted trial preference, as she is not expected to live for more than six months.
Federally-filed talcum powder lawsuits have also been consolidated in a multidistrict litigation that is currently underway in the U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey. At least 158 cases were pending in that proceeding as of March 15th.