Johnson & Johnson faces 11,700 lawsuits filed by people who say the company’s talcum powder products caused their cancer. More than a dozen cases are set to go to trial in 2019.
Most of those lawsuits involve women who developed ovarian cancer after years of using talc-based powder as a feminine hygiene product. They allege Johnson & Johnson knew about the cancer risks associated with its baby powder products and concealed them for decades.
Other lawsuits involve claims that talcum powder caused users’ mesothelioma, an aggressive and deadly cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdominal cavity, heart and other organs.
The lawsuits contend, among other things, that Johnson & Johnson and other talc manufacturers should have put warning labels on their talc products.
Ovarian Cancer Cases
Ovarian cancer cases make up the bulk of the talcum powder litigation. The talc lawsuits brought by women and their families allege that their cancer was directly caused by years of regular talcum powder use for feminine hygiene.
A total of 10,137 lawsuits were pending in multidistrict litigation in a New Jersey federal court in February 2019. Other talc lawsuits were also pending in state courts in California and Missouri.
Some talc lawsuits have generated giant verdicts. Other cases have been decided in favor of talc manufacturers or reversed on appeal. Still others have been dismissed or delayed.
In a prominent ovarian cancer talc trial in 2018, nearly two-dozen women told a St. Louis jury how they’d sprinkle Johnson’s Baby Powder and other products such as Shower to Shower on their genitals and other body parts for years as part of their daily hygiene routine.
Decades later, each of the women was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Most endured painful surgeries, radiation treatments and chemotherapy. While some achieved remission, others suffered relapses. Several died before the case even went to trial.
Scientists, doctors and other witnesses testified that the women’s cancer diagnoses may not have been a coincidence. Instead, they theorized that the women developed cancer because the talc they had used had been tainted with asbestos.
Over the years, testing of Johnson’s Baby Powder had on occasion shown that the talc had been contaminated with the cancer-causing chemical asbestos, they explained. The same types of asbestos were later found in the tumors of some the plaintiffs.
While Johnson & Johnson denies allegations that its baby powder products are tainted with asbestos or cause cancer, jurors didn’t buy it. The trial ended with jurors awarding $4.7 billion to the 22 plaintiffs. It was a record verdict in talc lawsuits and the sixth largest product-defect verdict in history.
“[Johnson & Johnson] knew of the presence of asbestos in products that they knowingly targeted for sale to mothers and babies, knew of the damage their products caused, and misrepresented the safety of these products for decades.”
While Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal the decision, the company was unsuccessful in getting a Missouri judge to set aside the verdict.
In a December 2018 ruling, St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison said Johnson & Johnson’s conduct was “particularly reprehensible” because company officials “knew of the presence of asbestos in products that they knowingly targeted for sale to mothers and babies, knew of the damage their products caused, and misrepresented the safety of these products for decades.”
$417 Million Award
In August 2017, a California jury awarded $417 million to Eva Echeverria. Echeverria, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer 2007, had used Johnson’s Baby Powder every day for decades. She passed away one month after her court victory. The verdict was later overturned but is being appealed.
$110 Million Award
A St. Louis jury decided in May 2017 that Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier were responsible for Lois Slemp’s ovarian cancer. The Virginia woman said she had used Johnson & Johnson baby powder products for more than four decades. Slemp’s was the fifth trial brought against Johnson & Johnson by an ovarian cancer victim.
$72 Million Award
Jacqueline Fox of Alabama won the first ovarian cancer verdict against Johnson & Johnson in February 2016. Fox had used Johnson’s Baby Powder for decades. She died at 62 years old, three years after her diagnosis and four months before the trial. The verdict was overturned on appeal in October 2017 on jurisdictional grounds.
$70 Million Award
In October 2016, a St. Louis jury awarded Deborah Giannecchini roughly $70 million. The California woman was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012 at 59 years old. She had used Johnson’s Baby Powder for feminine hygiene for about four decades.
People with mesothelioma and their family members are also filing and winning cases against talc manufacturers. Like many of those with ovarian cancer, the mesothelioma patients claim asbestos-contaminated talc caused their cancer. Asbestos exposure is the leading cause of mesothelioma.
Tara DeAugustinis was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2016. The Georgia wife and mother died 15 months later at 47 years old.
Her husband, Richard DeAugustinis, is suing Johnson & Johnson. He alleges the company knew its baby powder was contaminated with asbestos but didn’t warn consumers.
“Our belief is that she was exposed in the home as a child — long-term, repeated exposure to asbestos-tainted baby powder,”
“Our belief is that she was exposed in the home as a child — long-term, repeated exposure to asbestos-tainted baby powder,” DeAugustinis told his local NBC news station, 11Alive in Atlanta. “My wife had her life taken away from her. She had no choice in the matter.”
In April 2018, Stephen Lanzo III, a then-46-year-old investment banker with mesothelioma, won a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier, Imerys Talc America.
Lanzo claimed he developed the deadly disease after inhaling asbestos-contaminated talc particles from Shower to Shower and Johnson’s Baby Powder, which he’d used for more than three decades.
A pivotal moment in the case occurred when Lanzo’s lawyers introduced into evidence a confidential 1969 Johnson & Johnson memo that acknowledged testing had shown asbestos in the company’s baby powder. The memo said the firm should brace itself for potential lawsuits if the information were to become public, according to Bloomberg news.
At the end of the three-month trial, a New Jersey jury awarded Lanzo and his wife $117 million.
In December 2018, Johnson & Johnson reportedly settled a lawsuit brought by a New York woman who claimed Johnson’s Baby Powder caused her to develop mesothelioma. The $1.5 million settlement appears to be the first time the healthcare giant has settled a talc case.
Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, isn’t just facing pressure in the courts. The company is also facing scrutiny from members of Congress and federal agencies.
In February 2019, Johnson & Johnson revealed in a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it is responding to subpoenas and inquiries from the commission and the U.S. Department of Justice related to the safety of its talc products. A company spokesman told the Wall Street Journal the company is cooperating with the government investigations.
Johnson & Johnson said it had also received an inquiry from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat who represents Washington and the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Murray had sent a letter to Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky in January 2019, asking for information about what the company knew regarding potential asbestos contamination of its talc products and when it knew it.
Her request followed on the heels of an investigative report by Reuters that alleged the company knew for decades that its talc sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos but the company went to great lengths to conceal that information from regulators and the public.
After the story broke in December, Democratic Sen. Ed Markey called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to look into the matter.
“Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder is an iconic consumer product used by countless American families,” Markey wrote in a letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “That the company may have concealed a potentially serious health and safety risk associated with the use of its baby powder is deeply troubling.”
“That the company may have concealed a potentially serious health and safety risk associated with the use of its baby powder is deeply troubling.”
23 Cited Research Articles
- American Cancer Society. (2018, April 11). Key Statistics for Ovarian Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
- American Cancer Society. (2018, Nov. 16). Risk Factors for Malignant Mesothelioma. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html
- Bellon, T. (2019, January 7). Latest trial in J&J talc litigations gets under way in California. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-johnson-johnson-cancer/latest-trial-in-jj-talc-litigations-gets-under-way-in-california-idUSKCN1P2046
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- Bronstad, A. (2019, February 1). Missouri Supreme Court Halts Another Big Talcum Powder Trial. Retrieved from https://www.law.com/2019/02/01/missouri-supreme-court-halts-another-big-talcum-powder-trial/?slreturn=20190120134501
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- Gutierrez, L. (2017, October 17). Missouri appeals court throws out $72 million award in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder case. Retrieved from https://www.kansascity.com/news/nation-world/article179316896.html
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- Jablon, R. (2017, October 21). Judge tosses $417M award in claim baby powder caused cancer. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2017/10/20/judge-tosses-417-m-award-claim-baby-powder-caused-cancer/786625001/
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- Ross, K.S. (2018, December 20). Local family files lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson after mom dies from Mesothelioma. Retrieved from https://www.11alive.com/article/news/local-family-files-lawsuit-against-johnson-johnson-after-mom-dies-from-mesothelioma/85-5307259b-f506-40d2-a564-f1e5b2995932
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- U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. (2019, January 29). Murray Demands Information From Johnson & Johnson Following Reports of Cover Up of Potential Asbestos in Baby Powder. Retrieved from https://www.help.senate.gov/ranking/newsroom/press/murray-demands-information-from-johnson-and-johnson-following-reports-of-cover-up-of-potential-asbestos-in-baby-powder
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