In 2009, Ms. Deane Berg of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, filed the first ever talcum powder lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson alleging a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Though no monetary damages were awarded by the jury, Ms. Berg won her case in 2013, setting the stage for thousands of women to file lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson.
Ms. Berg was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2006 at the age of 49. A physician's assistant, Ms. Berg knew enough to wonder why she had developed advanced stage ovarian cancer at such an early age; half of all ovarian cancer diagnoses in the United States occur after the age of 65; and a majority of women are at least 60 women they receive this diagnosis. While undergoing aggressive treatment including a full hysterectomy and 6 months of harrowing chemotherapy, Ms. Berg researched causes of ovarian cancer online, and the only one that seemed to apply was perineal use of talcum powder. Ms. Berg had used Johnson's Baby Powder on a daily basis for thirty years without any inkling of the possible risk.
When Johnson & Johnson first became aware of Ms. Berg's lawsuit alleging a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, the company offered her a settlement of $1.3 million on the condition she stay quiet. Feeling a sense of responsibility to warn other women of the danger, Ms. Berg rejected the offer. In the end, the jury unanimously decided in her favor.
Johnson & Johnson is now facing an estimated 12,000 ovarian cancer lawsuits from baby powder users. The research presented in Ms. Berg's talcum powder cancer lawsuit remains vital to litigation today. Her attorney cited research dating back as early as 1971, when a researcher in Wales discovered talc particles in ovarian tumor tissue.
This first discovery led many researchers to look for a causal relationships between talcum powder dusting of the female genitals and increased rates of ovarian cancer. In 1982, Harvard epidemiologist Dr. Daniel Cramer undertook a study in which he compared 215 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer to 215 healthy women. Depending on their talcum powder usage habits, he determined there to be a 2-3x increased risk for ovarian cancer among women who used baby powder. Dr. Cramer has provided expert testimony in talcum powder cancer lawsuits.
Though Johnson & Johnson officials were aware of the emerging research, their conversations remained internal and focused on ways to counter these inconvenient findings to protect the reputation of their prized product. The company did not warn consumers of the possible risk. Even in 2006, when the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified talcum powder as a possible carcinogen, Johnson & Johnson did not warn consumers. J&J's main supplier of raw talc did add a warning to its product label but J&J did not pass that warning on to the public.
In 2013, a team of researchers reviewed all the significant studies to date on talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Together, the studies amounted to a sample group of nearly 20,000 women with ovarian cancer. The researchers concluded that using talcum powder for genital dusting results, on average, in a 24% increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. In other words, oen out of every 5-6 ovarian cancer cases is thought to be caused by baby powder usage. To this day, Johnson & Johnson officials deny any connection between talcum powder and ovarian cancer.
Though Ms. Berg did not receive monetary compensation for her suffering or expenses, she played an extremely important and courageous role in paving a way for women across America to hold J&J accountable for prioritizing profits over human life.
In 2014, two women emboldened by Deane Berg's 2013 winning verdict filed a class action lawsuit in St. Louis, Missouri. The plaintiffs, Denis Mikhlin and Erin Hoffman, were regular users of talcum powder products sold by Johnson & Johnson, including Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower.
Neither of these women had developed ovarian cancer, but were shocked when they learned research had revealed a positive link between feminine talcum powder use and increased rates of ovarian cancer. They sought to create a class of people--women who had used talcum powder--that had been exposed to a risk with no warning whatsoever. They sought to hold Johnson & Johnson accountable for selling them a product known to be dangerous, and effectively increasing their chance of developing cancer, without ever warning them.
The research linking talcum powder usage by women and increased rates of ovarian cancer was not new. In fact, the earliest link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer could be traced back to the early 1970s, when talc particles were detected in the tissues of an ovarian tumor. The St. Louis class action case points to 1982 as the latest possible date Johnson & Johnson may have become aware of researching linking talcum powder genital dusting by women with increased rates of ovarian cancer, citing a 1982 New York Times article in which a company official admitted to knowing of the research. In fact, women who dust their genitals routinely with talcum powder face a 33% higher risk for ovarian cancer than women who do not.
While the women, innocent consumers, had been dusting themselves with talcum powder regularly--for decades--executives at Johnson & Johnson had been aware of the risk. The plaintiffs made a strong case that Johnson & Johnson executives had known of the risk of ovarian cancer from talcum powder dusting since at least 1982, yet had never warned the public. This goal of this class action lawsuit was to hold J&J accountable for its disregard of consumer safety by creating a class consisting of all Missouri residents who had bought Johnson & Johnson's baby powder in the past five years.. Ovarian cancer is a deadly disease that can be difficult to detect in its early stages. Moreover, there were already safe alternatives to talcum powder, such as readily available cornstarch.
The complaint states talc products included other warnings--such as "Do not inhale"--but omitted the known hazard of ovarian cancer. The plaintiffs had not suffered injury or been diagnosed with ovarian cancer; instead, they sought to hold Johnson & Johnson accountable for knowingly exposing consumers to a heightened risk for ovarian cancer without ever issuing a product warning. In addition to seeking class certification, the plaintiffs sought punitive damages for violations of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.
Though ultimately unsuccessful, this class action lawsuit was important because it was the first that sought to establish a class of women who had been put at risk by routinely using talc-based body freshening products from global health giant Johnson & Johnson to dust their perineums. The lawsuit was bold, voicing common feelings among women when they learned about the talcum powder cancer risk in a powerful way.
In February of 2016, a St. Louis jury affirmed the case of Ms. Jacqueline Fox, finding a positive link between Ms. Fox's ovarian cancer diagnosis and her use of talcum powder for feminine hygiene and awarding $72 million in total damages. Ms. Fox had died of ovarian cancer four months before the case was concluded.
Jacqueline Fox's case was the first talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuit to result in the awarding of compensation. She was one of 60 women to file a joint lawsuit following Deane Berg's win before in a jury in 2013, and the first among these to go to trial. The court found Johnson & Johnson liable for negligence, conspiracy, and failure to warn regarding the potential risk of ovarian cancer from using baby powder for genital dusting.
The 10-2 jury vote spoke clearly in the favor of women harmed by talcum powder, and awarded $10 million in compensatory damages to the estate of Jacqueline Fox, and another $62 million in punitive damages. Of the two defendants--Johnson & Johnson (the manufacturer of the products in question) and Imery's Talc America (Johnson & Johnson's chief supplier of raw talc) only Johnson & Johnson was found liable.
Ms. Fox's son and executor of her estate, Marvin Salter, wept upon hearing the verdict. More important than the money, he explained, was the opportunity to hold Johnson & Johnson accountable for the harm the company had caused to his mother and many others like her.
Ms. Fox had used Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower, both of which contain raw mineral talc, routinely over the course of 35 years. Presenting internal company documents--communication between Johnson & Johnson executives and a variety of outside consultants they hired--Ms. Fox's attorneys showed that the company had been aware of the talcum powder cancer risk since at least the early 1980s, strategizing over the years how to keep the information from becoming mainstream or negatively affecting the perception of their talc-based products.
For example, one document from 1997 was communication from an outside consultant, warning J&J executives of the implications of recent talcum powder ovarian cancer research. A number of scientific studies have reinforced early findings; women who use talcum powder routinely face a 33% increased risk of developing ovarian cancer as a result. Attorneys for Ms. Fox presented evidence that statistically 1,500 women die each year of ovarian cancer traced back to talc.
Another document, dating to the early 2000s, revealed J&J executives to be engaged in strategizing around their defense for expected talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuits. Throughout all the internal conspiring and worry about the talcum powder cancer connection, the company never warned consumers of the risk. In fact, advertising campaigns throughout this period touted the safety of talcum powder for everyday feminine hygiene use--exactly what the company knew increased the risk of ovarian cancer.
The verdict was later thrown out on procedural technicalities by the U.S. Supreme Court, yet this case played an essential role in establishing the evidence for cases to come, included two more winning verdicts the same year, those of Gloria Ristesund and Deborah Giannecchini.
In May of 2016, a second St. Louis jury handed down a $55 million verdict in the talcum powder lawsuit of Gloria Ristesund. Ms. Ristesund's case was the second to come to trial in a lawsuit filed by and on behalf of 65 plaintiffs including Jacqueline Fox, whose estate was awarded $72 million just months prior. Each of the 65 women had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using body freshening products containing talc over the course of decades.
The jury in Ristesund's case agreed that talc products such as Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower had contributed to her development of ovarian cancer. Expert testimony included a Harvard doctor who attributes approximately 1,500 ovarian cancer deaths to talcum powder exposure each year.
Medical experts believe that perineal talcum powder dusting results in talc particles entering the feminine reproductive system. The talc particles travel through the fallopian tubes to the ovaries, where they settle. Because talc is not readily broken down by the body, the particles can remain intact for decades and cause inflammation, a risk factor for cancer. This is one way in which researchers say talcum powder is carcinogenic.
Ms. Ristesund of South Dakota, who was 62 when the verdict was announced, was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011. She had been using talc-based products for perineal dusting for more than four decades, including Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower.
The St. Louis jury found defendant Johnson & Johnson liable for injuries resulting from its talcum powder products, awarding a total of $55 million. The compensation included $50 million in punitive damages and another $5 million in actual damages.
This case mirrored that of Jacqueline Fox's, asserting that Johnson & Johnson was aware of mounting evidence indicating a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer since at least 1982. Rather than taking the expected precautions of warning consumers or switching to a safe formula (cornstarch has long since provided a safe alternative for women seeking body powder), the company continued to market its products as safe for everyday use. A highly trusted household name, many consumers such as Ristesund were influenced by the company's tagline "A sprinkle a day keeps the odor away."
In June of 2018, an appeals court in Missouri reversed the verdict on the basis of a 2017 Supreme Court ruling as to the legality of state courts' ability to rule on cases from other states. In this case, the plaintiff was not from Missouri, nor did the injuries take place in Missouri. The decision to reverse the case was not based on the allegations that Ms. Ristesund's cancer was caused by talcum powder, and this stands as an important milestone in the development of talcum powder cancer litigation.
The lawsuit of Deborah Giannecchini was the third case in which a jury awarded compensation to a plaintiff seeking damages for ovarian cancer linked to talcum powder usage--all of which happened in short succession during the course of a year. On October 27, 2016, jurors in City of St. Louis Circuit Court found defendants Johnson & Johnson and Imerys Talc America liable for negligence, failure to warn, concealment, and conspiracy, awarding $70 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
When Ms. Giannecchini of Modesto, California, was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer at the age of 59, she was told she likely would not survive beyond the year. Ms. Giannecchini had never heard of a connection between talc and ovarian cancer, and for more than four decades, she had used talc-based products including Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower in her feminine hygiene routine. Talc particles were found in her ovaries. She was forced to undergo multiple surgeries and regimens of chemotherapy treatment.
The day before this case was scheduled to go to trial in St. Louis, Johnson & Johnson filed an emergency appeal, stating the case was a "sham" because some of the plaintiffs originated from out of state. Critics say the appeal was a last-minute attempt to avoid what J&J expected to be another costly verdict. In the prior year, two St. Louis juries handed down verdicts of $72 million and $55 million. The appeal was denied and the case moved forward in St. Louis as planned.
Following the precedent set by trials for plaintiffs Jacqueline Fox and Gloria Ristesund, Ms. Giannecchini's case relied on internal J&J company documents showing the risk of ovarian cancer from talcum powder had been a source of concern for Johnson & Johnson officials since at least 1982. Rather than warning consumers of the risk, the company took an opposite tack--intentionally promoting talcum powder as safe and innocuous: ""For you, use every day to help feel soft, fresh, and comfortable."
Internal records also indicate Johnson & Johnson was involved in funding the Talc Interested Party Task Force, aimed at keeping cosmetic talc unregulated. The company has vehemently denied the connection between talcum powder and cancer, meanwhile hiring biased researchers to produce favorable test results to counter emerging scientific studies. Despite four decades worth of scientific research affirming the talcum powder cancer risk, and many major verdicts, Johnson & Johnson still insists talcum powder is safe for routine use. Meanwhile, a safe alternative (cornstarch) is readily available.
The jury found Johnson & Johnson liable on every count, awarding $65 million in punitive damages against the health giant. And for the first time ever, Imerys Talc America--Johnson & Johnson's chief supplier of raw mineral talc--was also found liable of multiple counts and was assigned $2.5 million in punitive damages. Another $575,000 was awarded in medical damages, along with 2 million more in compensatory damages, for a total of over $70 million from the two defendants.
As the third talcum powder cancer lawsuit awarding compensatory and punitive damages, this case set a precedent at the time for plaintiffs to anticipate roughly $70 million in damages. That number would rise as more talcum powder lawsuits were filed, but it was significant progress from Deane Berg's South Dakota lawsuit that started it all in 2013.
The fourth trial to arise out of the talcum powder lawsuit filed by and on behalf of 65 ovarian cancer victims in St. Louis was the case of Nora Daniels. This case came to trial in January of 2017 and was expected to be decided in the plaintiff's favor, following the previous three awards of $70 million, $55 million, and $72 million to out-of-state plaintiffs. However, that was not the case: on February 3, 2017, the jury found in favor of the defendants, Johnson & Johnson and Imerys Talc America.
Prior to the start of Ms. Daniels' trial, Johnson & Johnson requested the case be sent to another court. The appeal hinged on a jurisdiction argument asserting that non-residents should not be able to bring their cases to U.S. Circuit Court in the City of St. Louis. A state appeals court denied the request to delay the trial and it began in mid-January and lasted three weeks.
Ms. Daniels case presented the same argument as the previous three winning talcum powder lawsuits: that evidence-based research had made a clear connection between the use of talcum powder products for perineal hygiene and higher rates of ovarian cancer. The first indication that talcum powder may be connected to ovarian cancer came when talc particles were found in ovarian cancer tissues in the 1970s. In 1982, a Harvard epidemiologist compared more than 200 women who had a history of using talc product (such as Shower to Shower and Johnson's Baby Powder) to those who had not, and found women exposed to talc had a 33% higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. The complaint cited a litany of studies conducted over the course of decades reiterating these early connections.
There is clear and undeniable evidence that talcum powder producer Johnson & Johnson was conscious of these studies--such as a 1982 New York Times article quoting a J&J executive on the subject, and many internal company document where industry executives shared worries about potential negative press. The lawsuit paints a picture of a company intentionally choosing to hide the risk from consumers, and instead promote talcum powder as safe enough for everyday use. The complaint summarizes efforts to produce paid studies that would produce results running counter to scientific research. Throughout all its efforts to protect the reputation of its products, Johnson & Johnson never warned consumers of the risk, Meanwhile, cornstarch represented a safe and readily available alternative that is known to disintegrate quickly and causes no harm to humans.
Nora Daniels, a mother of two from Tennessee, was diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer in her early 50s. This is an early age to develop these forms of cancer. What made her case different from the previous winning cases was the particular type of ovarian cancer involved; the jury determined that because of Ms. Daniels' type of cancer, it was not linked to her use of talc-based products. Ms. Daniels had used Johnson Baby Powder for 25 years leading up to her diagnosis.
While some of the jurors felt there was not enough science behind the talcum powder cancer connection, other felt strongly that Johnson & Johnson should be required to put a warning on their product label, to let women make up their own minds about whether to continue using talcum powder for feminine hygiene.
In May of 2017, Johnson & Johnson was handed the largest talcum powder verdict for ovarian cancer yet when a St. Louis jury found in favor of the plaintiff, Lois Slemp. The jury awarded a total of $110 million in compensatory and punitive damages for counts of personal injury, conspiracy, implied warranty, and negligence.
Lois Slemp, of Virginia, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012 after using talc-based body freshening products over the course of four decades. As part of her regular feminine hygiene routine, Ms. Slemp used products including Shower to Shower and Johnson's Baby Powder. The chief ingredients in each of these products, talc, has been found to increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. In her lawsuit, Ms. Slemp alleged Johnson & Johnson and Imerys conspired to conceal the risk information from consumers. The agreed the two companies were at fault for Ms. Slemp's ovarian cancer.
Talc is a naturally-occurring mineral mined from deposits around the world. Talc particles do not disintegrate inside the body, but instead can remain intact and migrate to new locations over time. In the case of talcum powder ovarian cancer, researchers believe that talc particles entering the female reproductive system travel through the fallopian tubes to the ovaries, where they cause inflammation. Inflammation is a risk factor for cancer; it is for this reason talc itself is thought to be carcinogenic, according to expert testimony in the trial.
When her cancer was initially diagnosed in 2012, Ms. Slemp underwent surgery as well as seven difficult months of chemotherapy. For a few years, she lived in good health, but a recurrence of her cancer was discovered in 2017 and had spread to her liver. At the time of the trial, she was in the midst of another round of chemotherapy treatment which made it impossible for her to attend the trial in person. Instead, she testified to the jury through an audio recording. This case was expedited in light of her physical condition. Ms. Slemp had no prior knowledge of the potential danger for ovarian cancer linked to using talcum powder products.
Ms. Slemp was awarded $5.4 million in compensation. Another $105 million was awarded in punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson, while the second defendant, Imerys Talc America, footed only $50 thousand of the verdict. Deliberating over the course of a day, the jury found Johnson & Johnson 99% responsible for the Ms. Slemp's claims, while finding Imerys only 1% responsible. Judge Rex Burlison presided over the case, making it his fifth talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuit that year.
Lois Slemp's case was the fourth talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuit to award major damages. In February of 2016, a jury awarded $72 million to the estate of Jacqueline Fox, who died of ovarian cancer. Then in May of 2016, another St. Louis jury awarded a $55 million verdict to Gloria Ristesund. Finally, in October of 2016, Judge Burlison presided over a case where a St. Louis jury awarded $70 million in damages.
On August 21, 2017, Eva Echeverria of Los Angeles, California was awarded the largest talcum powder verdict for ovarian cancer to date. The defendants, Johnson & Johnson and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc., were ordered to pay $417 million including $347 million in punitive damages. Ms. Echeverria died of ovarian cancer just one month after her trial concluded, on September 20, 2017.
Ms. Echeverria was diagnosed with a "high grade" form of ovarian cancer in 2007, according to the complaint filed. According to her testimony, she had used Johnson's Baby Powder at least daily for feminine hygiene since 1965, when she was 11 years old. She also used the talc-based product Shower-to-Shower, to a lesser extent. Ms. Echeverria underwent several surgeries, including the removal of a softball-sized tumor, and numerous rounds of chemotherapy before ultimately dying of ovarian cancer ten years after her initial diagnosis.
Among the expert witnesses called to the stand in this case were Laura Plunkett, Ph.D. and John Godleski, M.D.. Dr. Plunkett testified that she believed using talcum powder for perineal dusting could cause ovarian cancer, based on research showing the presence of talc particles alters cells formation in the ovaries. She cited research showing that talc particles produce an inflammatory response in the ovaries, setting the stage for the growth of cancer cells. Dr. Godleski testified that talc particles had been discovered in ovarian tissue samples from Ms. Echeverria.
The central focus of this talcum powder lawsuit was Johnson & Johnson's failure to warn consumers of the risk of ovarian cancer from routine talcum powder use by women. Ms. Echeverria's attorneys cited numerous studies dating back to the early 1980s showing a link between the use of Johnson's Baby Powder and higher rates of ovarian cancer. The jury not only found in Ms. Echeverria's favor, but assigned a record $70 million in compensation for damages, in addition to $347 million in punitive damages--for a total of $417 million. In comparison, previous verdict ranged from $55 to $110 million in total.
Ms. Echeverria was so ill at the time of the trial that she was unable to attend. In a deposition that was presented via video recording during the trial, she testified that she used talcum powder from 1965 until 2013, several years after ovarian cancer was diagnosed. She had no idea there was a link between feminine talcum powder use and higher rates of ovarian cancer; she first learned of the connection from a TV ad and was alarmed to find a product she'd understood to be safe for everyday use may have actually caused her cancer. Despite proof the company has been aware of talcum powder ovarian cancer research since studies emerged in the early 1980s, the company has never warned consumers. To this day, Johnson's Baby Powder bottles do not contain an ovarian cancer warning. Cornstarch represents a safe alternative that has been available all along; many women blame J&J marketing jingles such as "A sprinkle a day keeps the odor away" for their long-term use of talc-based body freshening products.
Just two months after the trial by jury concluded, and one month after Ms. Echeverria passed away, the judgment was overturned on the basis of insufficient evidence. It was determined the jury considered evidence that was not allowed and that evidence had been improperly permitted in the case. A new trial was granted.
In July of 2018, the country was stunned by the announcement of a $4.7 billion talcum powder cancer verdict in the case of 22 women. Tried in the City of St. Louis Circuit Court, and presided over by Judge Rex Burlison, this case was important for more reasons than just its monumental damages: It was the first time the presence of asbestos in talcum powder was brought to the attention of a jury in an ovarian cancer lawsuit.
Krystal Kim of Philadelphia was one of the plaintiffs in the case. Now in her mid 50s, Ms. Kim was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014. She was having an unrelated minor surgery and the surgeon became suspicious that something was wrong. She had no symptoms whatsoever, as is often the case with ovarian cancer before it spreads, and was lucky the disease was detected in time for treatment. She went through six rounds of chemotherapy and then went into remission before her cancer returned. She underwent surgery to have her uterus removed, as well as portions of her colon and intestine. Ms. Kim believes her mother used Johnson's Baby Powder on her in infancy, and then she started using the product daily at the age of 10.
Asbestos is a known carcinogen that has been proven to cause mesothelioma, a form of cancer in the lungs. Unlike research linking talc particles to higher rates of ovarian cancer, which are the subject of ongoing debate, asbestos is universally accepted as carcinogenic. New evidence was used in this trial to show Johnson & Johnson's talc supply was tainted with asbestos in the past. The company knew of the presence of asbestos in its product, even receiving advice from a hired consultant that talc could never be completely asbestos-free. When asked to provide test results of raw talc to the FDA to aid its efforts in regulating cosmetic use of talc in the 1970s, J&J only selectively provided test results. The company held back several tests that revealed the presence of asbestos in its raw talc supply. The case accused Johnson & Johnson of concealing the presence of a known carcinogen, actively marketing a known hazardous substance as safe, and failing to warn consumers of the risk.
This case was brought forward by and on behalf of 22 women who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using talc-based products marketed by Johnson & Johnson. This was the not the first winning case but represents a landmark talcum powder cancer lawsuit for three key reasons: First, the amount of the settlement is far beyond any previous cases. Second, this was the first time an ovarian cancer case summoned the presence of asbestos as the cause of ovarian cancer. And third, when Johnson & Johnson appealed the case, the judgment was upheld. In comparison, some other talcum powder cancer verdicts have recently been thrown out and gone to a new trial.
Johnson & Johnson requested the jury verdict be thrown out on jurisdictional grounds because some of the plaintiffs did not originate in Missouri, requesting that separate trials be granted for each plaintiff. The defendant lost the appeal in December of 2018; that same month, Reuters published an in-depth investigative piece which made several pieces of evidence from the trial public. The evidence consisted of internal company memos and undisclosed test results, painting a clear picture of a company seeking to keep the presence of a known carcinogen under wraps in order to protect the reputation of its gold standard product. In the final decision, the judge wrote that "substantial evidence was adduced at trial of particularly reprehensible conduct" by Johnson & Johnson, including that the company "knew of the presence of asbestos in products that they knowingly targeted for sale to mothers and babies, knew of the damage their products caused, and misrepresented the safety of these products for decades."