Decision means J&J must pay $2.1 billion previously awarded to 22 women who say talc caused their ovarian cancer
Johnson and Johnson (J&J) has officially lost its legal fight to overturn a US court verdict ordering the company to pay $2.1 billion (£1.4 billion) in damages to 22 women and their families who claim their ovarian cancer was caused by its talc products. On 1 June, the US supreme court rejected the company’s request to review the Missouri jury’s decision from cases that were combined in a single trial in 2018.
In June 2020, an appeals court reduced the jury’s original award of $4.7 billion to $2.1 billion. However, J&J lawyers have suggested the decision leaves open matters related to legal procedure that will be relevant for the thousands of further talc-related cases the company is facing. ‘Decades of independent scientific evaluations confirm Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer,’ the company added.
In its natural form, some talc contains asbestos – a known carcinogen. But talc products sold in the US have been asbestos-free since the 1970s. When it comes to whether asbestos-free talc causes cancer, the scientific evidence remains contested.
Based on limited evidence from human studies of a link to ovarian cancer, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies perineal use of talc-based body powder as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’. In addition, Health Canada recently concluded that talc is ‘associated with ovarian cancer when using certain self-care products containing talc in the female genital area.’
Although published research since the 1960s has suggested a possible association between the use of powders containing talc in the genital area and the incidence of ovarian cancer, these studies have not conclusively demonstrated such a link, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.
There are nearly 30,000 ongoing lawsuits against J&J claiming harm from its talc powder. Lawyers in these cases have argued that J&J was aware of cancer risks, but hid that information, and even perhaps funded its own shadow research to disprove the connection.
In May 2020, J&J stopped selling its talc-based powder in the US and Canada, citing declining demand caused in part by ‘misinformation’ about its safety. The company continues to market its talc powder elsewhere, including the UK.