In the first of what looks to be many verdicts and/or settlements involving allegations that Johnson & Johnson ignored a possible link between cancer and its talcum-based products, a jury has ordered the company to pay a total of $72 million to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer.
In 2014, dozens of women with ovarian cancer sued Johnson & Johnson, alleging that the healthcare products giant deliberately turned a blind eye to scientific evidence showing a possible link between the use of talcum powder in the female genital area and an increased risk for ovarian cancer. The complaint cites studies going back to 1971 that suggest this link exists.
According to the lawsuit, after a 1982 study on the issue found a 92% increased risk in ovarian cancer with women who used talc-based products around their genitals, the researcher behind that study directly advised a J&J doctor to place a warning label on their products.
A decade later, following the release of other studies claiming a link between talcum powder use and increased cancer risk, J&J helped to form the Talc Interested Party Task Force (TIPTF). “The stated purpose of the TIPTF was to pool financial resources of these companies in an effort to collectively defend talc use at all costs and to prevent regulation of any type over this industry,” reads the complaint.
“The TIPTF hired scientists to perform biased research regarding the safety of talc, members of the TIPTF edited scientific reports of the scientists hired by this group prior the submission of these scientific reports to governmental agencies, members of the TIPTF knowingly released false information about the safety of talc to the consuming public, and used political and economic influence on regulatory bodies regarding talc.”
At least one talc supplier began including warnings on the product it supplied to J&J. The plaintiffs contend that this alone should have given J&J reason to be aware of the potential cancer risk link.
The jury found J&J liable for failure to warn, negligence, and conspiracy, resulting in $10 million in damages. The company was also found liable in the wrongful death of an Alabama woman who passed away in 2015, leading to a total of $62 million in punitive damages. This is just one of around 1,200 cases currently being pursued against J&J in courts in Missouri and New Jersey.
Johnson’s Baby Powder still contains talc, though the company now makes versions of the product that use corn starch instead.