Why Thousands of People Are Filing Talcum Powder Lawsuits Against Johnson & Johnson

talcum powder spilled on a table

At the end of April, the judge overseeing the vast majority of talcum powder lawsuits ruled that plaintiff experts would be allowed to testify.

In her ruling, Judge Freda L. Wolfson, U.S. District Judge for the District of New Jersey in Trenton refused claims from defendant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) that the plaintiffs’ counsel was trying to introduce “junk science” into the courtroom.

Despite J&J’s best efforts to undercut the credibility of the medical and scientific experts called by the plaintiffs, Judge Wolfson found “that the opinions of the general causation experts with respect to this factor are admissible. Defendants have not presented any compelling grounds for the Court to find otherwise.”

The development is important for several reasons. One, general causation expert testimony plays a crucial role in cases of talcum powder cancer.

Juries need to understand how talc is connected to asbestos exposure, and how asbestos exposure is connected to mesothelioma, ovarian cancer, and uterine cancer. Were J&J able to keep a jury from hearing expert testimony about the scientific link between talc and cancer, it might have made all future talcum powder lawsuits difficult for victims to win.

The other significant aspect of Wolfson’s decision is that it will likely serve as a benchmark for future decisions about the admissibility of expert testimony in talcum powder lawsuits.

J&J has always sought to paint plaintiff experts as peddlers of “junk science,” rather than reckoning with the facts before them. That strategy is going to be much more difficult now that Wolfson has reviewed the experts methods and found them to be sound.

Understanding Talcum Powder Cancer

Concerns about talcum powder linked to ovarian cancer first emerged in the 1970s, after talc was found colocated in ovarian tumor tissue. Scientists were worried that talc could cause cancer in its own right, but they were also worried that asbestos contamination in the talc could lead to cancer as well.

Talc and asbestos often occur near one another in rock formations. When mining for talc, it’s incredibly difficult to make sure that there is no asbestos present.

This is problematic because asbestos is a toxic mineral known to cause mesothelioma and other deadly diseases. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, and after being exposed, the cancer risks are life-long.

Cosmetic talc is intended to be used in sensitive areas of the body, so if it contains asbestos, anyone who uses these products is putting themselves in grave danger.

Talcum Powder Lawsuits Reveal Massive J&J Cover-Up

In 1971, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) brought together a group of top scientists in order to figure out a path forward. They opted to listen to an industry trade group that said cosmetic manufacturers had the tools necessary to ensure that the talc they produced would be free of asbestos.

For almost 50 years, the rules set by talc manufacturers were the law of the land. Anyone who claimed that talc products made them sick was stonewalled.

During that time, when companies like J&J detected asbestos in their talc, they covered it up.

They never shared the positive results with regulators or the public. In fact, the information only came out as a part of discovery during a talcum powder lawsuit.

Investigations of internal company memos by Reuters and New York Times revealed that J&J had privately worried about asbestos in their talc mines, even as they assured consumers that their products were 100% pure.

Communications revealed that J&J had lobbied for testing methods that were too weak to detect the asbestos they knew was present. Instead of protecting consumers, they were turning a blind eye to the well-known dangers of asbestos.

Of course, J&J described both exposés as absurd conspiracy theories. Like their efforts to paint the connection between talc and cancer as junk science, the company’s strategy has been to discredit their opponents, rather than putting together a substantive response to the serious claims.

Unfortunately for J&J, the more that the public learns about the truth, the harder it becomes to take the company at its word.

Talcum Powder Lawsuits: Verdicts and Settlements

More than 16,000 people have filed lawsuits against J&J and others alleging that talc-based products caused them to develop cancer.

The vast majority of these claims involving ovarian and uterine cancer have been consolidated under in the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) in New Jersey, which is overseen by Judge Wolfson.

Plaintiffs who allege that their use of J&J’s talc products caused their mesothelioma are not included in the MDL. They have brought cases as individuals and in groups against the company. The details of most settlements are kept private, but there have been a number of major verdicts that gained national attention:

  • $4.7 Billion awarded to 22 women who claimed that their ovarian cancer was caused by Johnsons’ Baby Powder. The 2018 verdict was subsequently upheld in a Missouri circuit court by Judge Rex Burlison, who cited J&J’s “particularly reprehensible conduct” for targeting mothers and babies with a product they knew was unsafe.
  • $9 Million awarded to a Florida woman who claimed her mesothelioma was caused by J&J talc products. The 2020 trial loss was the first in the state for J&J.
  • $750 Million in punitive damages (later reduced) were awarded to 4 mesothelioma survivors in New Jersey because the jury decided the company was responsible and hid the risks. This was on top of the $37.3 Million in compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiffs by a previous jury.

The number of talcum powder lawsuits against J&J continues to grow — a trend that only intensified after the FDA detected asbestos in a bottle of Johnsons’ Baby Powder in October 2019.

J&J disputed the finding, prompting a public spat with the agency. The FDA stood by their results and initiated the first review of asbestos-in-talc in almost 50 years.

In March of 2020, the FDA announced the results of its investigation into asbestos contamination in cosmetic talc. Nearly 20% of the products the agency tested contained asbestos.

The time for letting the cosmetic talc industry police itself is clearly over.

Filing a Talcum Powder Lawsuit

For too long, people have been trusting in talc-based products that come with serious risks. Manufacturers like J&J have always known about these risks. Not warning consumers is a crime.

If you used these dangerous products and have developed mesothelioma, ovarian cancer, or uterine cancer, you may be eligible to file a talcum powder lawsuit.

Contact us today for a free case review to find out if you are entitled to compensation.

Author:Sokolove Law

The Sokolove Law Content Team consists of writers and editors who work alongside the firm’s attorneys and case managers. The team strives to present the most accurate and relevant information for those who need legal help.

Last modified: May 14, 2020

View 4 Sources
  1. Environmental Working Group, “FDA Tests Find Asbestos in Nearly 20 Percent of Cosmetics Products.” Retrieved from https://www.ewg.org/release/fda-tests-find-asbestos-nearly-20-percent-cosmetics-products. Accessed on May 12, 2020.

  2. Epidemiology, “Talc, Asbestos, and Epidemiology: Corporate Influence and Scientific Incognizance.” Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/epidem/Fulltext/2019/11000/Talc,_Asbestos,_and_Epidemiology__Corporate.2.aspx. Accessed on May 12, 2020.

  3. Reuters, “U.S. Judge Rules Talc Lawsuits Against J&J Can Proceed, Testimony Limited.” Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-johnson-johnson-talc-ruling/us-judge-rules-talc-lawsuits-against-jj-can-proceed-testimony-limited-idUSKCN2292QC. Accessed on May 12, 2020.

  4. Retuers, “Johnson & Johnson Knew for Decades That Asbestos Lurked in Its Baby Powder.” Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/johnsonandjohnson-cancer/. Accessed on May 12, 2020.