A California jury recently awarded an individual the largest award over the connection between talcum powder-based products and cancer. The jury, which was based in Los Angeles, awarded Eva Echeverria $417 million because she developed ovarian cancer after decades of using Baby Powder. Thousands of others have come forward against Johnson & Johnson and other companies that make and sell talcum powder products, seeking and often winning awards because of cancer diagnoses.
Talcum Powder and Cancer
There have been connections made between the use of talcum powder and both ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. The latter connection has resulted from contamination of talc, a natural mineral, with asbestos, another natural mineral. There are testing guidelines in place to ensure that asbestos is not in talcum powder products, but contamination is still a concern.
In the current case and award, the issue is over the relationship between talcum powder use in the genital area and the development of ovarian cancer. Research has been mixed, but it is clear there is some connection between this use of the product, including Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder, and ovarian cancer in some women.
One idea of how talcum powder could cause ovarian cancer is the fact that the powder particles can migrate up into the peritoneal cavity, where the ovaries are. Talc crystals have been found in women’s ovaries and ovarian tumors; the inflammation that they cause there may be what triggers the formation of cancer cells in some individuals. Trace amounts of asbestos may also be a contributing factor. Some organizations, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer, have designated talcum powder a human carcinogen when used on the female genitals.
Johnson & Johnson Appealing Verdict
The current case is important because the jury has awarded the plaintiff a larger award than any other in the history of talcum powder and cancer litigation. Before this case the company had lost four out of five other similar cases that went to trial. For those cases the company was ordered to pay a total of more than $300 million to victims.
The current case was brought by Eva Echeverria, a 63-year old who says that she first started using Baby Powder at the age of 11. Ten years ago she was diagnosed with a terminal case of ovarian cancer. The case that Echeverria and her lawyers brought against Johnson & Johnson claimed that the company new about the increased risk of cancer caused by Baby Powder use. They also claimed that the company knowingly hid that information from the public. The $417-million award from the jury includes $70 million for compensatory damages. The remaining $347 million was awarded as punitive damages.
Johnson & Johnson has stated that it will appeal the verdict because it believes that science and research is on its side. The company claims that there is no significant or clear evidence from research that talcum powder causes ovarian cancer or that there is any link at all. In the meantime the company faces thousands more lawsuits just like this one and it may have to pay much more in settlements before all victims are compensated.