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Talcum Powder Settlement

Ovarian cancer survivor Diane Berg says that talcum powder products should be taken off the market — or at least get better warning labels until a recall is issued. In 2013, the South Dakota woman turned down a $1.3 million talc cancer settlement with Johnson & Johnson, offered out of court, because she didn’t agree with the settlement’s gag order clause.

Over the past several years, a growing number of talc lawsuits have been brought against Johnson & Johnson, alleging the company willfully concealed cancer risks from the public, health care providers and the FDA. Litigation has been centralized in state court, where plaintiffs are demanding fair and just compensation for their medical expenses, lost wages, emotional suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.

Johnson & Johnson baby powder cancer verdict

Prospects for plaintiffs took a positive turn this February when Missouri Circuit Court jurors hit J&J with a $72 million dollar verdict. The pharmaceutical giant was ordered to pay compensatory and punitive damages to the family of Jackie Fox, whose ovarian cancer was traced back to decades of perineal talcum powder use. The panel was presented with expert testimony and compelling evidence, including internal documents showing J&J officials had been aware of a link between ovarian cancer and talc use around the genitals as early as the 1980s, but did nothing about it.

Fox had used Shower to Shower and Baby Powder to help keep “odor away,” trusting that the products were safe for their intended purpose. The complaint leveled charges of negligence and failure to warn among other causes of action. The St. Louis jury found J&J liable for conspiracy, negligence and fraud. This was the first talcum powder complaint to result in a damages award for the plaintiff, but may not be the last.

J&J admits no liability and maintains that its talc-based products are supported by years of evidence as well as peer-reviewed studies. A company spokesman told Reuters that J&J plans to appeal the verdict.

$55 million verdict in second talc cancer trial

Johnson & Johnson lost their second talc cancer lawsuit in Missouri state court on May 2, 2016. The company was ordered to pay $55 million to Gloria Ristesund, who argued that her daily genital use of the company’s talc-powder products — Baby Powder and Shower to Shower– caused her to develop ovarian cancer. Ristesund was awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and another $50 million in punitive damages, which are intended to punish the defendant. Ristesund, who is now in remission, underwent a hysterectomy and other surgeries to battle the aggressive cancer.

Though J&J will likely appeal the decision, the outcome has sparked speculation that wide scale settlement negotiations may be around the corner.

$1 million talc cancer settlement

Similar to hundreds of women with pending cases against J&J, Diane Berg believes that the $72 million verdict is a stunning victory for plaintiffs. A physician’s assistant from Sioux Falls, 58-year old Berg was shocked by her ovarian cancer diagnosis at the age of 49. After doctors discovered she had a hemorrhagic ovary, Berg was scheduled for a biopsy. The results showed she had stage 3 ovarian cancer and bilateral carcinoma. Just one week later, Berg had a hysterectomy before starting a grueling regimen of chemotherapy that caused permanent hearing loss. She is a lucky survivor.

In 2013, Berg was one of the first women to sue Johnson & Johnson over talcum powder cancer risks, but she says the litigation wasn’t about the money. The suit was tried before a federal jury in South Dakota — a notoriously conservative state – which needed a unanimous vote to award monetary damages. The panel ultimately found that the defendant’s talc products contributed to Berg’s cancer, though they did not award compensation.

Berg tells the New York Post that she turned down the $1.3 settlement prior to the trial because she knew she wanted her story to be told. A confidentiality clause would have prevented her from blowing the whistle on J&J’s questionable behavior, which has undoubtedly affected thousands of lives. While Berg’s case didn’t win any compensation, it did pave the way for future litigation, and helped uncover the dangers of talcum powder for feminine hygiene purposes.

Talcum powder ovarian cancer settlements

Court dockets indicate that J&J is facing 1,200 talcum powder cases, which have been filed in New Jersey and Missouri state courts, as well as a handful of federal courts. At least 130 talc lawsuits in New Jersey have been assigned to Atlantic County for consolidated case management, a procedure known as multi-county litigation (MCL). A type of mass tort, MCL centralizes individual claims before one judge who supervises discovery and other pretrial processes, allowing both parties to benefit. Both multi-county and multidistrict litigation are devices used to efficiently manage large numbers of lawsuits arising from a common product, and allows each plaintiff control of their individual claim.

Judges may order mediation in the hopes that both sides will agree to a settlement, or the court may proceed with bellwether trials, in which a few representative cases are tried before a jury. Talcum powder complaints are still in the early stages, with more trials expected in St. Louis Circuit Court this year.

Faced with their second straight loss in Missouri court, J&J may consider a talcum powder settlement rather than litigating hundreds of separate cases.

As long as profits are more than settlement payouts, multi-billion dollar companies like J&J are often predisposed to take this route, which is often perceived as another cost of doing business.

Talcum powder lawsuit settlement resources 

  1. Reuters, J &J must pay $72 mln for cancer death linked to talcum powder -lawyers
  2. Huffington Post, Johnson & Johnson To Pay Out Millions After Talcum Powder Cancer Link Death
  3. New York Post, I turned down $1M from Johnson & Johnson, and blew the whistle instead
  4. Cancer Prevention Research, Genital powder use and risk of ovarian cancer: a pooled analysis of 8,525 cases and 9,859 controls
  5. New Jersey Courts, Application for Centralized Management of Certain Cases Involving Talc Based Products