Media coverage of a recent jury award in a civil suit against Johnson & Johnson may be the first that many people have heard about the potentially carcinogenic effects of talcum powder. Of the $72 million awarded, $10 million is for actual damages and the rest is for punitive damages.
The lawsuit claimed that an Alabama woman developed ovarian cancer after several decades of using talcum powders for feminine hygiene. The specific products she used, according to the suit, were Shower to Shower and Johnson's Baby Powder. The woman, who died last fall, isn't the only one who has made this claim. Almost 60 other people are involved in litigation against Johnson & Johnson.
What Does Talcum Powder Contain That Could Cause Cancer?
Talc contains silicon and magnesium. It's used in numerous personal care products and cosmetics because it absorbs moisture and lessens friction. Talcum products used to contain asbestos, but haven't since the 1970s.
One piece of evidence introduced by attorneys for the plaintiff's son, who has continued the suit since his mother's death, may have impacted the jury's decision. It's an internal Johnson & Johnson letter written in 1997 by a medical consultant who compared denying the cancer risk of talcum power to the cigarette industry's initial denials of the dangers of their product. The consultant called it "denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary."
How Strong Is the Evidence That Talcum Powder Can Cause Cancer?
It depends on whom you ask. Clear causality hasn't been established. Experts say that there may be some link to ovarian cancer, particularly among women who use it around their genitals, but that link is hard to determine with certainty. One thing that most agree on, including the American Cancer Society, is that more research on the matter is required.
Johnson & Johnson is expected to appeal the $62 million in punitive damages portion of the award. In many cases, these large punitive awards are reduced when defendants appeal them.
If there is evidence that a product may have contributed to a person's illness or death, coupled with evidence that the company who manufactures the product knew about potential dangers and kept this knowledge from consumers, you may have a strong product liability case. Attorneys who specialize in these types of cases can provide advice and guidance.
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