Johnson & Johnson has long been one of the country’s most respected companies, and their iconic baby powder is one of the most trusted products on the market, but since accusations that the talc-based powder is responsible for both malignant mesothelioma and ovarian cancer, the company’s fortunes have changed dramatically – and the trend downwards is expected to continue. There have been whispers about Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder causing illness for a while, but in the last two years victims have come forward and pursued legal action, and many of them have won enormous victories in court. The most notable of these is a $4.69 billion that they were told to pay to 22 women who blamed their powder for their ovarian counter, and there have been other verdicts for millions around the country. Perhaps most notably, there are over 10,000 more cases pending, and the more of these cases are decided against Johnson & Johnson’s, the more likely other victims will be to step forward seeking compensation for their suffering.
At the root of the legal activity are allegations that Johnson & Johnson’s was aware that their talc was contaminated with asbestos, but chose to cover it up instead of taking action to prevent users from the risk of malignant mesothelioma or ovarian cancer. A recent in-depth report by Reuters detailed efforts to prevent the U.S. government from revealing information about talc’s dangers, as well as hundreds of internal memos sent by company executives and scientists trying to guard against legal liability and exposure. Though the company has defended itself and claims that their product has never contained asbestos, there is significant evidence to the contrary, and the number of lawsuits that they face is growing rapidly. Next year there will be four cases heard in St. Louis, and at least one of the multi-victim trials will represent 38 women.
Though some of the litigation involves mesothelioma while other lawsuits accuse the company’s product of causing ovarian cancer, decisions for either type of plaintiff are likely to have a cumulative effect on the company. According to University of Georgia professor Elizabeth Burch, who teaches mass-tort law, “The increased number of trials, especially in what is considered a plaintiff-friendly venue like St. Louis, doesn’t augur well for J&J. The more they lose, the more cases will be filed. I just don’t see how they are going to get a handle on this litigation.”