An estimated one in 75 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime. All women are at risk, but a set of factors can increase a woman’s chance of developing the cancer, including increasing age and genetic predisposition.
However, some women claim that the use of talc-based products like Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Shower causes ovarian cancer, and juries across the country are agreeing with them.
Last month, a state jury in the first California talc trial awarded a woman a record $417 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson over claims that the company played a role in the development of her terminal ovarian cancer.
The jury found Johnson & Johnson had failed to warn plaintiff Eva Echeverria and consumers about the increased risk of ovarian cancer caused by Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talc-based products.
Echeverria was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007 and filed a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson in 2016. She claimed that her daily use of the products led her to develop the cancer.
She was awarded $70 million in compensatory damages while Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Johnson & Johnson Consumer were hit with $347 million in punitive damages.
Mark Robinson, Echeverria’s attorney, told Law360 that the plaintiff was happy with the outcome.
“Her statement was that, ‘Mark, I’m doing this for the other women who were not warned and got ovarian cancer and for the women who will get ovarian cancer if they keep using the talcum powder,’” he said.
Verdict Set a High-Water Mark in Talc Trials
Although this wasn’t the first lawsuit Johnson & Johnson lost related to its talc-based products, it was by far the largest verdict levied against the company.
In May, a Missouri jury hit the company with a $110 million verdict. Plaintiff Lois Slemp made a host of claims against the pharmaceutical giant, including conspiracy, breach of implied warranty, and negligence, after she developed ovarian cancer.
Slemp said she had used Shower to Shower products on her genital area nearly every day for 40 years until she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in August 2012.
The jury found in her favor on every claim and awarded Slemp $110 million from Johnson & Johnson and Johnson & Johnson Consumer. Another $50,000 came from Imerys Talc America, which supplies the company with talc.
Johnson & Johnson lost most of the trials in St. Louis. In February 2016, a jury awarded the estate of Jacqueline Fox $72 million. In May 2016, jurors awarded Gloria Ristesund $55 million. Plaintiff Deborah Giannecchini was awarded $70 million in October 2016.
One jury in Missouri ruled in favor of Johnson & Johnson in March, deciding that the plaintiff’s ovarian cancer was not related to her use of talcum powder products.
Although the trial in California is the first in the state related to talcum powder, Robinson said the jury most likely wanted to make an example out of the trial. Another of Echeverria’s attorneys told the jury during closing arguments that a warning could have prevented his client’s ovarian cancer.
“They’re not ever going to warn, unless y’all do something about it,” he said. “ While Johnson & Johnson comes in her and plays these legal games, the collateral damage is thousands of women including Ms. Echeverria.”
A spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that while the company sympathizes with the women suffering from ovarian cancer, the evidence linking the cancer with talcum powder is insufficient.
“We will appeal today’s verdict because we are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder,” spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said. “We are preparing for additional trials in the U.S. and we will continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder.”
More Women Continue Filing Lawsuits Against J&J
Thousands of women have already come forward to file lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson for failing to warn about the possible risks associated with talc-based products. Every month, more women continue filing lawsuits.
The families of two women from Southwest Florida are among the most recent to file lawsuits against the company.
“It’s an unsafe product,” attorney Bill Berke, who is representing the two families, said to USA Today. “Several juries have had the opportunity to hear about the potentially harmful effects of the product and they’ve heard both sides and doctors. And they’ve concluded that some people have been, unfortunately, injured severely.”
Michele Jenkins died from ovarian cancer on Jan. 27, 2016, and Marilyn Savage is now in remission. The 58-year-old said her cancer has not spread, but the aggressive treatment left her weak and limited.
“I can’t do the things I normally do,” she said. “My whole lifestyle has been changed.”
Savage and the family of Jenkins said they used Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder for decades before developing ovarian cancer. Savage said her mother even used it on her as a child.
“My mom used that on us all our lives,” she said. “Even as an adult that’s what I used on myself. It’s something we always did.”
Link Between Ovarian Cancer and Talc Unclear
Despite losses in the court system, the link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder is still up for debate.
Some organizations like the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classify talc as possibly carcinogenic to humans while others like the American Cancer Society say the evidence is mixed but the increased risk would be small.
Regardless of the evidence, pediatricians and the American Cancer Society recommend against using talc-based products near the genitals.
“For any individual woman, if there is an increased risk, the overall increase is likely to very be small,” the American Cancer Society wrote in an advisory last updated August 2017. “Still, talc is widely used in many products, so it is important to determine if the increased risk is real. Research in this area continues.”
Although the consensus remains unclear, Johnson & Johnson continues to stand by the safety of its products.
In a video from October 2016, the company interviewed Tara Glasgow, the vice president of Research & Development, Baby and Scientific Engagement at Johnson & Johnson, about the safety of talc.
“The facts are that science, research, clinical evidence and decades of study by medical experts around the world continue to support the safety of cosmetic talc,” Glasgow said.
Women who are exhibiting any signs or symptoms of ovarian cancer are encouraged to seek medical attention immediately.