The pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson continues to fight lawsuits related to its talc powders and cancer. The company has been held liable for links between its talcum powder products and ovarian cancer. During the past two years, J&J has been confronted with jury awards of more than $600 million, including a verdict in August 2017 for $417 million to Eva Echeverria from California. However, none of these cased were related to asbestos.
Unlike “failure to warn” lawsuits brought by defective products lawyers against manufacturers of asbestos insulation who added the toxic mineral to their products intentionally, lawsuits against manufacturers of talc products give plaintiffs two new angles – “falsely ensuring a product’s safety,” and “negligence in failure to detect a contaminant.”
The first lawsuit related to asbestos expected to go to trial against Johnson & Johnson involves Tina Herford, a California resident who claims to have developed a rare form of cancer, mesothelioma, after breathing in the company’s talcum powder products, Shower to Shower, and Johnson’s Baby Powder from 1956 to 1993.
Although this is the first case against Johnson & Johnson, there have been numerous asbestos-related verdicts against other manufacturers of talc products. A California woman was awarded a $13 million lawsuit in 2015 against Colgate-Palmolive for developing mesothelioma after breathing in asbestos contained in their Cashmere Bouquet Talcum Powder. In a record-setting case in 2016 against Whittaker, Clark & Daniels it was ruled that Philip Depoian developed mesothelioma from being exposed to talc contaminated by asbestos which his father had brought home from his barbershop. He was awarded $18 million.
Failure by J&J to Disclose Harmful Contaminant
Files from a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson were recently unsealed which revealed that the pharmaceutical and consumer goods giant had known for decades that is talc products may have contained traces of deadly asbestos fibers. The documents show that J&J were alerted to the risk of asbestos contamination early in 1970 and that they had trained their employees to reassure consumers that their iconic Baby Powder was never contaminated with carcinogenic asbestos.
This is just another chapter in the continuing controversy over the link between talc and cancer. A lawsuit filed by 50 women in St. Louis against J&J is just one among more than 5,000 claims related to cancer caused by asbestos in talc. Most women involved in these lawsuits blame talc for causing their ovarian cancer, but previous lawsuits have liked talc to mesothelioma which is rare cancer that is caused exclusively by being exposed to asbestos. The lawsuit in St. Louis alleged that talc contained in the products manufactured by J&J was not then, nor had it ever been, free from asbestiform fibers.
How Asbestos causes Cancer
Ingesting or inhaling asbestos fibers can cause serious diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. Some studies have found that the fibers can accumulate in women’s ovaries, potentially causing ovarian cancer. Although there is much debate regarding the pathways of exposure, talc use on the genitals could be on the way. An asbestos-risk consultant has said that even traces of asbestos in talc products can pose a risk of cancer. The risk increases for women and children, the most prolific users of talc, even if only trace amounts are found in the products.
In defense of J&J, a company spokesman cited the FDA regulations and that the company’s talc products have always been fee-based for decades of testing, monitoring, and regulation. He said that historical sample-testing by the FDA and numerous independent scientists and laboratories had confirmed the absence of asbestos in J&J talc products.
Verdict Overturned in $417 Million Lawsuit
The case of Eva Echeverria was one among thousands of similar cases brought nationwide against J&J for failing to warn their consumers of the risk of cancer from the talc used in their products. Eva developed ovarian cancer after years of using talc-based products by J&J. The award included punitive damage of $347 million. Johnson & Johnson said it would be appealing.
In two separate cases, judges have ruled in favor of J&J overturning financial judgments to plaintiffs who believed the company’s talc-based products were to blame for developing ovarian cancer. One was a woman in Alabama for $72 million and the other for $417 million to Eva Echeverria from California who has since died.
Johnson & Johnson have said that they will appeal the verdict because they are guided by science that supports the safety of their talc products. The National Cancer Institute’s Physician Data Query was cited as stating in April 2017 that the weight of evidence is not supportive of the existence of a positive link between exposure of the genital area to talc, and cancer.
So far juries have awarded more than $307 million in similar talc cancer cases in the St. Louis, Missouri against Johnson & Johnson.