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Johnson & Johnson to spend over $100m to settle 1,000 talc powder lawsuits

Published on 07/10/20 at 12:27pm
Photo by Mike Mozart (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Johnson & Johnson have agreed to pay over $100 million to settle more than 1,000 lawsuits that blame the company’s talc baby powder for causing cancer. 

These new settlements are the first time that the company has settled cases in bulk, rather than dealing with them individually. The company struck the deals with several law firms but there are still 20,000 lawsuits pending. It is estimated resolving all these cases could cost as much as $10 billion. 

Kim Montagnino, a spokeswoman for the company, said: “In certain circumstances, we do choose to settle lawsuits, which is done without an admission of liability and in no way changes our position regarding the safety of our products. Our talc is safe, does not contain asbestos and does not cause cancer.”

J&J have been plagued by lawsuits over its talc based baby powder product. In August 2017, an Los Angeles jury hit Johnson & Johnson for $417 million in damages over the case of Eva Echeverria, who alleged that the company’s baby powder had given her ovarian cancer after extended use on her genital area.

In 2018, Mark Lanier argued in court that the company’s officials knew internal tests showed asbestos was present in the powder, but didn’t disclose it for 40 years despite its links to mesothelioma. Lanier was initially awarded $4.7 billion, which was cut down to $2.1 billion. The company appealed this decision in 2020, but could not have the verdict overturned. The court’s statement in June read: “Plaintiffs proved with convincing clarity that defendants engaged in outrageous conduct because of an evil motive or reckless indifference. There was significant reprehensibility in defendants' conduct.”

Another trial beginning this month in Oakland California, involves Rosalino Reyes II who alleges he used the company’s baby power for 50 years before being diagnosed with asbestos-linked cancer last year. 

Back in January, research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found that the use of powder in the genital area and incidents of ovarian cancer was 1.08. 2,168 women in the study developed ovarian cancer, meaning there was no statistically significant link between the use of talc-based baby powder and ovarian cancer.

Despite this large study, case-control studies have shown stronger links between ovarian cancer and baby powder use. Daniel W. Cramer, a Harvard epidemiologist, has carried out multiple case-control studies which have been used in many of the lawsuits. He himself has served as an expert witness in these cases.

In North America, the company has swapped talc for cornstarch product in its baby powder, while it is being sold with the same formula in Europe. 

Conor Kavanagh

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