While it seemed the tides had finally changed in favor of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) this March when the Missouri state court jury ruled in its favor, ringing in its first victory. However, this elated feeling was extremely short-lived; not only was the next ruling in favor of the plaintiff, but it was also the largest settlement amount totaling to $110 million, to be paid so far for any Talcum Powder settlement. This comes to a mega-settlement amount of nearly $307 million to be coughed up by the manufacturer. The rulings are giving hope and confidence to the thousands of patients awaiting trial and is also urging more people to come forward and file a be a part of this Mass Tort litigation. J&J, on the other hand, is showing no signs of defeat; it is gearing up to challenge these verdicts in the court and is preparing for the forthcoming trials; there have been no recalls or label changes by the company so far. J&J continues to defend the safety of its baby powder.
The common string linking these victories for the plaintiffs is the fact the jury agreed to the fact that J&J knew about studies linking its product to an increased risk of cancer and failed to warn the consumer.
Amidst the claims and protests, the actual research papers findings have their own voice to be listened to. A quick literature search shows that there are more than 100 studies already being conducted to evaluate the connection between talc and ovarian cancer. One research study collected data over 16 years of talc use and epithelial cancer risk and found there are 33% chances of increase in ovarian cancer risk when talc was used in genital areas. |LS|1|RS| which goes in sync with the results from an Australian study analysis |LS|2|RS| A recent meta-analysis done in 2017, which included 302,705 women, also shows a significant association between genital use of talc and ovarian cancer. |LS|3|RS| Still the data is inconclusive and lags to prove the direct connection between talc and ovarian cancer. The Office of Women's Health (OWH) at FDA has awarded a two-year research grant in 2016, to the Office of Cosmetics and Colors (OCAC), to better judge the possible link between talc exposure from body powder use and ovarian cancer outcomes.
Other than the research evidence, there have been recent exposures at the trials of important documents that were not made public by the manufacturer which clearly highlight the link between ovarian cancer and talc.
Thousands of affected women have vouched that if they had been informed about the potential cancer risk they would have never used the product. This claim directly points to the negligence shown by the manufacturer and solely blames them for their condition.
The giant conglomerate, apart from facing thousands of ovarian cancer lawsuits filed on behalf of women who allegedly developed ovarian cancer linked to the use of Talcum Powder for feminine hygiene purposes, has also witnessed a dip in its stock value but is still vigorously defending itself in the ongoing mesothelioma litigation.
Some Landmark Verdicts & Settlements:
- February 2016: A St. Louis jury awarded the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer $10 million in actual damages and a further $62 million for punitive damages. However, in October 2017, J&J won the reversal of this $72 million verdict.
- May 2016: The second jury in the City of St. Louis, Mo., Circuit Court found J&J liable for the development of a plaintiff’s ovarian cancer and awarded her $55 million. However, in June 2018, a Missouri Court of Appeals dismissed this J&J talc-powder verdict.
- October 2016: The third jury in the City of St. Louis, Mo., Circuit Court, awarded a woman from Modesto, California, over $70 million in a lawsuit alleging that J&J acted with “negligent conduct” in the production and sale of its flagship baby powder product. For the first time, the jury also held Johnson & Johnson talc supplier Imerys liable for damages as well.
- March 2017: In the fourth lawsuit to be tried in St. Louis circuit court, jurors found defendants J&J and Imerys Talc America not liable for damages in a lawsuit by a Tennessee resident who alleged that she used J&J Baby Powder for 36 years and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013.
- May 2017: The Missouri Court jury in the City of St. Louis ordered J&J along with its talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, to pay $110 million to a plaintiff over her ovarian cancer allegation.
- June 2017: The sixth talc trial in St. Louis Circuit Court ended in a mistrial announced by Circuit Judge Rex Burlison based on a U.S. Supreme Court verdict affecting jurisdictional issues, limiting state courts’ authority to hear claims against companies that are not based in the state, or when the alleged injuries did not occur there.
- August 2017: A California jury announced $ 417 million in favor of a plaintiff after finding J&J talcum powder products were responsible for the plaintiff’s ovarian cancer. The verdict was overturned on October 20, 2017. Despite the death of the plaintiff, her daughter and the acting trustee appealed to the California jury's decision as of July 2018. It was the first Talcum case to go to trial in California.
With more than 2000 cases awaiting trial, it seems a long journey before arriving at the destination for the plaintiffs as well as J&J. What is mind-boggling is that if it is proved that a talc-based powder does lead to a risk of developing cancer, and if this fact was known to the manufacturer, would it still risk the lives of millions of people only for their own profits and spend millions trying to manipulate scientific and regulatory scrutiny? If yes, then no settlement amount will be enough as a penalty or compensation.