A federal judge in New Jersey has decided to allow plaintiffs’ experts in thousands of talcum powder lawsuits testify that the long-term use of Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower can cause ovarian cancer.
Johnson & Johnson is currently facing more than 16,000 claims nationwide that allege the raw talc used to manufacture its popular body powders can be tainted with cancer-causing asbestos and heavy metals. Plaintiffs further allege that company executives were aware early as the 1970s that the regular, repeated application of talc-based powders to the female genitals could increase the risk for ovarian cancer, but did nothing to warn the public.
The majority of talcum powder lawsuits are pending in a federal multidistrict litigation now underway in the U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey. If the court had ruled in Johnson & Johnson’s favor, the decision would have wiped out all of those cases
But yesterday’s decision by U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson will allow five of the plaintiffs’ experts – two of whom appeared before Congress – to testify that Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products can cause cancer based on epidemiological studies. They will also be able to state that the link could be the result of asbestos and heavy metals contamination.
While they will also be able to testify that talc can reach the ovaries when used vaginally, the experts will not be permitted to state that it may do so when inhaled. Judge Wolfson also made clear that her decision “is not a determination by the court on the validity of the plaintiffs’ allegations.”
Nevertheless, the ruling is a significant win for plaintiff’s attorneys who have been fighting Johnson & Johnson’s assertions that the alleged link between talc and ovarian cancer isn’t backed by valid scientific evidence.
“For four or five years, Johnson & Johnson has said this is ‘junk science,’ that there is no reliable science to support these theories,” one talcum powder lawyer told Law.com.
“That completely obliterates that argument, and it’s very significant for the overall litigation,” she continued.
Since cases began going to trial in 2015, several state court juries around the country have awarded substantial verdicts to talcum powder ovarian cancer plaintiffs. The most recent trial ended in July 2018, when a jury in St. Louis, Missouri ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.7 billion to 22 ovarian cancer victims or their surviving loved ones.
The company is currently appealing that verdict and has successfully appealed several others.