As many people have read or heard in the past few months, a rapidly growing number of cases have been filed by women who have contracted ovarian, uterine and vaginal cancers that they claim were caused by an ordinary, everyday item found in almost all homes in the United States: Talcum powder (“talc”), or baby powder.
In August, a jury in Los Angeles found Johnson & Johnson (one of largest companies and most famous names in over the counter health products,) liable for a woman’s ovarian cancer. The jury ordered that J&J pay a record $417 million in damages to the victim, Eva Echeverria.
The verdict marked the highest sum that a jury has awarded so far in a series of talcum powder cases against Johnson & Johnson in courts throughout the U.S. The plaintiff in this case, as in other cases around the U.S., alleged that Johnson & Johnson did not adequately warn consumers about the cancer risks that were connected with the use of talcum powder. The plaintiff in the California case testified that she applied the giant company’s baby powder daily, for decades beginning in the 1950s. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007, and claimed that she developed ovarian cancer as a ‘‘proximate result of the unreasonably dangerous and defective nature of talcum powder.”
As any reader of my blog will know, this is a type of cases known as a defective products case, and falls under an area of law known as “Products Liability.”
Ms. Echeverria’s attorney, Mark Robinson, said Ms. Ecehevarria told him that it was her hope that the huge verdict would force Johnson & Johnson to put additional health warnings on its products. In a public statement, Atty. Robinson said “‘Mrs. Echeverria is dying from this ovarian cancer and she said to me all she wanted to do was to help the other women throughout the whole country who have ovarian cancer for using Johnson & Johnson for 20 and 30 years.”
The Los Angeles verdict in Los Angeles comes on the heels of a St. Louis, Missouri jury’s decision in May (2017) to award $110.5 million to a Virginia woman who was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. That woman asserted that she developed ovarian cancer as a result of using Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder-containing products for at least 40 years. Additionally, three other trials in St. Louis produced similar verdicts last year: Separate juries in that state found J&J liable for these failing to warn of the carcinogenic danger from regular talcum use, and awarded damages of $72 million, $70.1 million and $55 million, totaling $307.6 million in Missouri alone.
Johnson & Johnson has stated that the company will appeal these juries’ decisions, as is their procedural right.
Some plaintiffs have not been so fortunate, however: One St. Louis jury (last March 2017,) rejected a Tennessee woman’s claim that talcum powder use caused her ovarian and uterine cancer, and two other cases in the state of New Jersey were dismissed by a judge who ruled that the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ in those cases presented insufficiently reliable evidence connecting talc use to ovarian cancer.
In total, over 1,000 other plaintiffs have filed similar lawsuits across the U.S.. Some of these plaintiffs did win their cases, but were awarded much lower monetary verdicts. What this fact illustrates is how differently juries in one state (or in a county within that state ) can act and think, than in another geographic region. And this fact, makes the choice of where a plaintiff files such an important lawsuit, critical. Here in Massachusetts, for example, some counties are well-known for either rarely finding in favor of plaintiffs, or, when they do, awarding very low amounts for damages. This sets up a strategy that many product liability defendants employ – especially large corporations – of filing motions to move plaintiffs’ cases to another, more business-friendly state or venue: Banking on the odds that a jury in such a business-friendly venue will fins in their (the defense’s) favor.
So, what is the scientific basis upon which these women make their claims that talcum powder (baby powder) caused their ovarian and uterine cancers? The leading theory may involve one word many people have already heard of in other cancer cases (principally mesothelioma cases): That word? Asbestos. In a more recent case in California, and attorney for a woman claimed that Johnson & Johnson had used asbestos in its talcum powder for many years, never telling or warning consumers about it.
Johnson & Johnson has consistently claimed that there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that with women suffering from ovarian or uterine cancer contracted it from the use of Johnson’s baby powder.
While I cannot say definitely as of today that the opposite is true, as a Massachusetts defective products attorney, I wouldn’t doubt it at all. Big business and major corporations have been doing this for decades – specifically, marketing products that they knew were unreasonably dangerous, and yet deliberately failed to warn consumers – all to make big money. Some of the more historic examples (by no means a full list – that would take several pages of this blog):
- The legendary Ford Pinto case in the early 1970’s where it was established that Ford Motor Company knew that its design and construction of its Pinto cars were dangerously defective;
- The tobacco industry: They intentionally withheld the facts about tobacco smoke, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of millions of Americans over decades of time;
- Mesothelioma cases that exposed the asbestos industry deliberating failing to warn servicemen and other workers that were exposed to its dangerous, cancer-causing product;
- The Volkswagen cases, where it was shown the company knowingly manufactured engines that did’t get anywhere near the mileage they claimed, and put out far more pollution than claimed;
- All the way to the more recent Takata airbag litigation, where that company failed to warn car drivers that its air bag products were defective, have done this for generations.
As a talc/baby powder cancer attorney that has seen too many cases of businesses producing and marketing dangerous and defective products while simultaneously hiding these dangers from the public, I can assure readers: These types of cases happen far too often – and when they do – the “average lawyer” or “average” law firm can’t handle them. They are extremely complex, multidimensional, complicated cases that re fought tooth-and-nail by huge corporations. If you or someone you know has developed ovarian or uterine cancer from the use of talcum powder or baby powder – whether manufactured by Johnson & Johnson or another company – make sure that you consult with the right defective products law firm: One that has several years of specialized experience, and that can prove the favorable results that they have obtained for their clients. This type of very complex, expensive litigation is not for the attorney who handles defective products cases “now and again.” Be wise: If you need to speak with us, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.