Johnson & Johnson Prepares to Fight 130 Lawsuits Over Talcum Powder in Its Home State

ST. LOUIS, MO–Did using Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talc daily for personal hygiene cause Jackie Fox's ovarian cancer?

That question is at the heart of a case playing out in Missouri right now.

Fox filed a lawsuit over claims the talcum powder J&J marketed to women gave many of them cancer, and the verdict may reportedly inform its legal team about whether to fight or settle some 1,200 similar lawsuits, including 130 filed in the company's home state: New Jersey.

Fox died of cancer last year at the age of 62 but her family is hoping to win the St. Louis trial against J&J. Roughly six months before she died, she said in a depostion that she was, "'raised on' Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talc and used it every morning until she was diagnosed with cancer," according to a report from Bloomberg.

A 1998 Shower to Shower television commercial says: "Just a sprinkle a day, helps keep odor away…Have you had your sprinkle today?"

The report notes that, to win the case, lawyers for the family must prove that talc in J&J’s products caused her cancer and J&J knew the risk, but failed to warn consumers.

Fox's trial, one of some 1,000 cases filed in Missouri, began on February 2, and is expected to last as long as 3 weeks. 

"[The Fox Family] holds J&J responsible, asserting the health-care giant knew decades ago of the link between talc and ovarian cancer," reports Bloomberg. 

"J&J’s internal documents will show it knew of studies connecting talc use and ovarian cancer but continued to market it, particularly to African-American and Hispanic women, plaintiff’s attorney Allen Smith told jurors at the start of trial…'The evidence — the internal documents — will show that the company valued profits over human life,' "reads the report.

However, a J&J attorney countered, "The 'best and most recent' studies show no link between talc and ovarian cancer," according to the report. “We don’t have to warn based on a plaintiff’s suspicions.”

A J&J spokeswoman also stated before the trial that, “The safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence and peer-reviewed studies.”

At the end of January, the judge rejected J&J's request to dismiss the Missouri suit on grounds there was "'ample evidence' that might lead a jury to conclude it conspired to hide the risks of talc." 

[J&J] based its request in part on an April 2014 statement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that it didn’t find 'conclusive evidence' of a link between talc used for feminine hygiene and ovarian cancer."

J&J also insists that Fox’s family can’t prove talc is responsible for her cancer and argue that “a warning label wouldn’t have stopped her from using it,” the report says. 

But, the family is only claiming that talc contributed to her cancer, even though it wasn’t the single cause. Talc was only “a contributing factor,” Smith told the court, according to the report.

“The plaintiff doesn’t have to prove that talc is the only cause for J&J to be held liable, [Smith said in court],” reads the report.

“J&J was aware of every one of these studies going back 30 to 40 years,” Smith told jurors. 

The 130 New Jersey talc cases have been assigned to Atlantic County for centralized case management, according to a notice issued late last year.

"The Supreme Court…has determined to designate litigation alleging personal injuries resulting from use of talc-based body powder products for feminine hygiene purposes as multicounty litigation [MCL],” reads the notice.

"An MCL is a procedure in which several individual claims are consolidated in a single court at the state level so that one judge can oversee discovery and other pretrial procedures," reads a report on topclassactions.com, adding that the number of claims in this particular multi-county litigation "is expected to increase…by the time the MCL is over." 

The cases are now awaiting litigation, with the latest case management order indicating that “the filing of dispositive motions not dependent on expert testimony…shall be extended to April 29, 2016.”