Over the last few years, the traditional asbestos litigation landscape has begun to change, with an influx of cases now focusing on the potential threat of cancer from the use of talcum powder products. A naturally-occurring mineral, talc is mainly made up of the elements magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. It is widely used in cosmetics and personal care products. As with any new area of law, the landscape is filled with uncertainty as plaintiffs and defendants alike try to make sense of opposing scientific viewpoints and weary consumer juries.
Talc litigation is mainly concentrated in two to three states, including New Jersey. Two recent Missouri jury trials, in February 2016 and May 2016, show the potential monetary impact of this burgeoning field of litigation. Two different juries found Johnson & Johnson, one of the leading manufacturers of talcum powder products, liable for the sale and manufacture of their Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talcum powder products, awarding over $127 million in damages between the two lawsuits.
Oftentimes these cases come down to dueling experts, and verdicts are based upon who the juries believe are the most credible. Plaintiffs’ experts focus on the history of asbestos content in talcum powder products in an attempt to show that defendants should have, or did know, that their talcum powder products contained asbestos which pose health risks after years of extensive use.
But defendants, including Johnson and Johnson, assert that there is no proof that talcum powder ever contained asbestos. In fact, The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance doesn't list talc at all as a risk factor. Defense experts provide testimony and scientific analysis that support the safety of cosmetic talc dating back 30 years.
Ovarian cancer is relatively rare, accounting for only 1.3% of all new cases in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute. But its impact on the world is growing. It’s the eighth most common cancer and the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women. Fewer than half of all patients survive five years after diagnosis.
An influx of cases has already begun to flood the courts in New Jersey, New York and Missouri. In fact, as a result of the two recent trials, Johnson & Johnson in particular, faces at least an additional 1,200 lawsuits regarding cosmetic talcum powder products. As more talc lawsuits proceed to trial, we will continue to see the impact on the talc industry.