A judge in New Jersey has ruled that thousands of individuals claiming Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products caused cancer may proceed with their lawsuits. However, there will be limitations on expert testimony allowed concerning the talc and baby powder products in question.
After the ruling on April 27, the company issued a statement saying the decision “is not a determination by the court on the validity of the plaintiffs’ allegations.” In addition, J&J noted that every verdict against their talcum powder products that have been through the entire appeals process was overturned. Headquartered in New Brunswick, the giant New Jersey corporation vehemently denies the cancer claim and points to tests and studies done worldwide by regulators showing the talc to be asbestos-free and safe.
A Major Win For Plaintiff Attorneys
U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson is scheduled to hear most of the 16,000 (and growing) talc-related lawsuits filed nationwide. The New Jersey magistrate has ruled that attorneys for the plaintiffs can bring in experts who will testify that epidemiological research shows talcum powder can cause cancer. J&J fought to bar all experts’ testimony which would have ended every case, however, Wolfson’s orders have prevented this from happening.
Now, experts will be able to demonstrate a tie between talcum powder and possible contamination of heavy metals and asbestos. The judge established limits by prohibiting testimony that linked inhaling talc to a suggestion that such talc could then travel to the ovaries. However, she will allow experts to propose that talc can reach the ovaries through vaginal use.
The co-chair of a steering committee for the plaintiffs, Leigh O’Dell, declares that “These experts report on the growing amount of peer-reviewed medical literature regarding talcum powder and ovarian cancer and represent the increasing number of highly respected researchers and doctors who are standing up to tell the world about the dangers of talcum powder.” She continued, “These respected and qualified experts will now testify in trials about the risk factors and causes of ovarian cancer, and the biological links of talcum powder use to this deadly disease.”
“We’re very pleased,” O’Dell proclaims. “The decision states, in a nutshell, that plaintiffs’ general causation experts are going to be able to testify that talcum powder can cause ovarian cancer.”
Experts Now Cleared to Testify
Formerly challenged by attorneys for Johnson & Johnson, but now allowed to testify about talc’s cancer-causing dangers are the following expert witnesses:
- Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD – At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Dr. McTiernan researches cancer prevention. She is a Research Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health and at UW’s School of Medicine.
- Daniel Clarke-Pearson, MD – He is a specialist in gynecologic oncology and a recent chairman at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
- Arch “Chip” Carson, MD, PhD – At Houston’s University of Texas School of Public Health, Dr. Carson is an associate professor and the program director of the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health.
Following the ruling by Judge Wolfson, the way is now cleared for these additional experts to testify in upcoming trials:
- William Longo, PhD – The founder of Micro Analytical Laboratories in Georgia and an electron microscopist/material scientist, Dr. Longo specializes in analyzing asbestos and materials containing mineral fiber. His analysis of J&J talc was done through transmission electron microscopy. He is prepared to testify that the talc contains asbestos as well as fibrous talc.
- Ghassan Saed, MD, PhD – At Wayne State University’s Departments of Obstetric Gynecology and Oncolgy, and at Detroit’s Karmanos Cancer Center, Dr. Saed is Research Professor. His testimony will show the oxidative stress in cells and the inflammation that talc can cause.
Talcum Powder Verdicts
When thousands of cases are combined into multidistrict litigation like the MDL in New Jersey, few of the cases will act as early “bellwether” trials in an effort to see how strong each side’s case is and to help with settlement. In these early cases, expert testimony carries much weight. A number of suits surrounding talc have already gone to trial against Johnson & Johnson around the country in state courts. One took place in St. Louis, Missouri, where 22 plaintiffs were awarded $4.69 billion in July 2018. J&J is appealing.
During the last few years, verdicts have been won several times against J&J. However, some courts dispute whether baby powder causes ovarian cancer. In 2017, Superior Court Judge Maren Nelson in Los Angeles dismissed a large $417 million verdict, and the dismissal withstood a 2019 appeal. The ruling claimed there was not enough scientific evidence presented by the plaintiff in support of the claim.
Johnson & Johnson seemed bolstered by the judge’s ruling and began criticizing procedures like the ones Dr. William Longo uses, calling them unscientific and unreliable. However, in testimony before New Jersey’s Judge Wolfson, Dr. Longo said he uses identical methods used by J&J in the past when checking for asbestos in talc. The giant manufacturer disputes this claim.
The proposition that talcum powder can cause ovarian cancer even if it isn’t tainted with asbestos is also disputed by J&J. The Journal of American Medicine published the results of a 2020 study in which over 250,000 women were involved. Through the study, it was determined there is no link between using talc in the genital region of the body and the risk of ovarian cancer. However, researchers did admit to the study being “underpowered.”
More Lawsuits Facing Johnson & Johnson
Further accusations have arisen against J&J regarding cancer. This time it is mesothelioma, asbestos-caused lung cancer. A report by Reuters in 2018 exposes J&J for knowing that the company’s raw talc tested positive for asbestos, but failing to divulge the problem to regulators or consumers.
As recently as October 2019, the company recalled one lot of its baby powder after asbestos was discovered by the Food and Drug Administration in a test sample. Johnson & Johnson is facing federal criminal investigation regarding the potential cloaking of its talcum powder’s risks and safety. Some internal company documents seem to reveal that the manufacturer knew of contamination from asbestos in their talcum powder as far back as the early 1950s.
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