Numerous talcum powder lawsuits have been filed in recent years and link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder is a growing source of litigation and public concern. Talcum powder is often used, particularly by women, to prevent chafing and as a drying agent between the legs. It is also a component of many cosmetics.
Because talcum powder is not a drug it does not undergo the strict testing and approval process that the FDA mandates for medications. Despite some conflicting test data, lawsuits and record verdicts have proliferated, especially against Johnson & Johnson. A record verdict was recorded in California Superior Court in Los Angeles in August 2017 in which a woman suffering from ovarian cancer was awarded $417 million. In an SEC filing Johnson & Johnson disclosed that it has been named as a defendant in at least 3,100 actions involving talc. There are more than 300 additional cases pending in California. Many of the other state cases are pending in Missouri. The reason for the Missouri venue is that until a recent Supreme Court ruling Missouri was liberal in getting venue to out of state plaintiffs.
Nature of Talcum Powder Lawsuit Claims
There are 40 years of studies linking talc to ovarian cancers though the studies are not yet conclusive. A report from May of 2016 determined that 63% of women with ovarian cancer had used talc around or near their genitals. Other results vary from no noticeable increase in risk, to a 33% higher risk (Epidemiology 2015). Researchers are not yet certain of the mechanism by which talc could cause ovarian tumors. A leading theory is that talc particles can enter through the vagina and travel up to the ovaries. Extended contact over a period of years is what could cause the cancer to generate. Talc is found and mined near asbestos. One notable issue in some of the lawsuits is that several decisions turned on Johnson & Johnson’s reported concealment of critical information about the safety of talcum powder rather than proof of a direct nexus between talc and cancer.
Multidistrict Litigation in Talcum Powder Lawsuits
As of August 2017 there are 684 cases pending under Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) (MDL -2738 IN RE: Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Products Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation) in federal court in the District of New Jersey. Talcum powder cases were combined for the purpose of MDL in October 2016 to simplify and consolidate the litigation process. Cases from around the country may be combined in a single court and judge in multidistrict litigation in order to combine and simplify pretrial discovery. If the cases are not settled or dismissed the presiding judge and parties involved may choose one or more representatives case to litigate. These “bellwether” cases offer guidance to other plaintiffs about if and how to continue. The remaining cases will then be returned to their home jurisdictions for litigation.