In a recent ruling, Chief Judge for the District of New Jersey Freda Wolfson has given over 16,000 plaintiffs the go-ahead to file their talc lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson. However, unlike previous lawsuits where the company had sought to bar the testimony of key witnesses, the judge has granted the request that expert witnesses be allowed.
All plaintiffs are filing for damages attributed to the use of Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products. Their cases are based on findings that these products are linked to ovarian cancer in users.
Multiple epidemiological studies and findings have shown that the presence of asbestos in talc products may cause cancer. For one, asbestos is the main culprit in certain types of cancer like mesothelioma.
In Johnson & Johnson’s response released on April 28, 2020, the company stated that the court’s decision “is not a determination by the court on the validity of the plaintiff’s allegations.”
Thus, while the court has given some 16,000+ plaintiffs permission to move forward with their lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, there has been no admission of guilt from the company. Nor does this mean that the court agrees with the plaintiffs.
Johnson & Johnson went on to clearly state that even though some other lawsuits have been awarded, the company’s appeals have seen some verdicts overturned by the courts. The company also reiterated its stance that its talc products have been proven to be free of asbestos and therefore are safe to use.
The Conflicting Nature of Expert Witness Approval
Yet, in what could be a key determinant in these cases, the court has limited the scope of expert witness testimonies.
In the April 27, 2020 ruling, Judge Wolfson said, “The experts…provided good grounds for their decisions to place significant weight on the strength of association factor. Defendants have not presented any compelling grounds for the court to find otherwise.”
So even though the approval sounds like a bit of a win for plaintiffs looking to sue Johnson & Johnson, the court’s conditions may drastically affect the outcome of the cases. Expert witnesses are key in defective product lawsuits. Without their expertise and knowledge, it’s going to be very hard to prove the plaintiff’s claims and accusations.
According to Wolfson, the testimonies of expert witnesses Dr. Anne McTiernan and Dr. Daniel Clarke-Pearson are limited to establishing and verifying the link between Johnson & Johnson’s talc products and ovarian cancer. Wolfson also approved another witness, Dr. William Longo, to testify regarding the presence of asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder.
These are not the only lawsuits that Johnson & Johnson has ever faced. Multiple talcum powder-related lawsuits from plaintiffs across the country have gone on to trial, with one in St. Louis reaching an outstanding $4.69 billion verdict.
Johnson & Johnson has appealed the ruling and is waiting for the outcome.
Expert Testimonies Triggered Johnson & Johnson’s Recent Wave of Talc Products Lawsuits
In 2019, the US government ordered congressional hearings to look into the safety of talcum powder. The first was on the heels of the FDA’s discovery that asbestos was found in talc products specifically meant for use by children.
The government convened a second congressional hearing when another FDA report showed that there was evidence of asbestos in Johnson’s® Baby Powder.
The link between the use of talc and ovarian cancer is anything but new. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform stated during the hearings that “since the 1960s, scientists have identified a link between ovarian cancer and the use of powders containing talc.”
Although Johnson & Johnson denies these accusations, reiterating its stance that its own talc products are devoid of asbestos materials, expert witness Longo, Founder of Materials Analytical Services, says otherwise.
Longo suggests that Johnson & Johnson’s testing methods are incapable of detecting asbestos in its talc products even when the substance is present. He also maintains that Johnson & Johnson’s testing methods aren’t the best in the industry.
Longo’s claims come from testing 72 historical samples of Johnson & Johnson’s talc products. Many plaintiffs will be counting on Longo’s expertise during the course of the lawsuits to prove their case.
The same goes for McTiernan, a cancer-prevention epidemiologist working with the Division of Public Health Sciences at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
As one of the key witnesses in the Congressional hearings, McTiernan testified that epidemiological data showed that the “use of talcum powder products in the genital/perineal area can cause ovarian cancer.”
Every year, approximately 20,000 female residents in the US are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. And the odds increase with prolonged use of talc.
Marasco & Nesselbush Can Champion Your Fight
“The decisions rendered in this case and others throughout the country are a good sign for our clients impacted by Johnson & Johnson’s Talc products,” said Joseph Marasco, Partner at Marasco & Nesselbush. “We expect other courts to follow the decisions rendered. Ultimately, those injured or their loved ones will be compensated for the devastating harm suffered.”
If you’re also concerned about having used talcum powder, or suspect that your ovarian cancer or that of a loved one is linked to the use of talc, you should talk to us.
As experienced Providence, RI product liability lawyers, we’re committed to helping you get the compensation you need and deserve. Talc powder users who would like to discuss their case can reach us at 401-443-2999 to schedule a free consultation today.