In a landmark settlement, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay out over $100 million to resolve more than 1,000 lawsuits which claim the company’s talcum powder-based products like baby powder caused cancer. The long-awaited announcement will begin to resolve years of litigation involving over 20,000 cancer victims. The agreement marks the first time J&J has settled talc powder cancer cases in bulk rather than settling individual suits before trial.
The bulk settlement is a distinct shift in the way Johnson & Johnson has handled its litigation woes. To date, the company has only settled individual claims once a trial was underway and not going in their favor. When trials did get to verdict, J&J lost several big ones.
In 2017 a Los Angeles jury awarded a cancer victim $417 million.
In July 2018 a Missouri trial resulted in a jury verdict of $4.7 billon compensating 22 plaintiffs. The award was later reduced to $2.12 by the Missouri Court of Appeals.
Still No Admission of Liability
Even after paying out billions, Johnson & Johnson stubbornly maintains their products are completely safe for consumers. A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson said, “In certain circumstances, we do choose to settle lawsuits, which is done without an admission of liability and in no way changes our position regarding the safety of our products. Our talc is safe, does not contain asbestos and does not cause cancer.” The company maintains their products are completely safe and claims “scientific evidence” supports their position. Critics say that is unlikely given J&J recently altered how the products are manufactured by replacing talc powder with corn starch for products sold in the U.S. and Canada.
In October 2019, J&J recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder “out of an abundance of caution” after trace amounts of asbestos were found in testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Ignoring the evidence, Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky later responded “we unequivocally believe that our talc and baby powder does not contain asbestos.”
J&J’s Broad and Deceptive Marketing Tactics
For more than 100 years, Johnson & Johnson marketed its talcum powder-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products as safe for adults, children and new-born infants. Many women grew up using these products for their own personal hygiene based on the recommendation of their mothers and grandmothers. Generations of women have used a sprinkle of talcum powder on their genitals to keep them fresh and dry as part of their daily routine. J&J marketed Baby Powder to adult women as a symbol of “freshness and comfort” eliminating friction on the skin, absorbing “excess wetness” to keep the skin feeling dry and comfortable, and “clinically proven to be gentle and mild.”
Thousands of pending lawsuits accuse Johnson & Johnson of inducing women through deceptive advertisements to dust themselves with Baby Powder to mask odors. The company specifically targeted women with slogans such as “for you, use every day to help feel soft, fresh and comfortable.”
Johnson marketed its Shower to Shower talc-based product with similar messages of comfort resonating with women. Consumers believed Shower to Shower was safe due to famous slogans such as “a sprinkle a day helps keep odor away,” and advertisements such as “your body perspires in more places than just under your arms. Use Shower to Shower to feel dry, fresh and comfortable throughout the day. Shower to Shower can be used all over your body.”
According to an April 2019 Reuters investigation, J&J looked for ways to sell more Baby Powder to two key groups of longtime users: African American and overweight women. According to an internal J&J marketing presentation, the “right place” to focus was under-developed geographical areas with hot weather and higher African American populations. During the presentation executives were told “Powder is still considered a relevant product among African American consumers. This could be an opportunity.” In the following years, J&J’s marketing tactics specifically targeted “curvy Southern women 18-49 (years old) skewing African American.”
The first epidemiologic study on talc power use in the female genital area was conducted by scientists in 1982 and found a 92% increased risk in ovarian cancer with women who reported genital talc use. The scientists even suggested that Johnson & Johnson place a warning label on talc-based products, a recommendation the company decided not to heed. Since the original research in 1982, there have been 27 additional epidemiologic studies linking talc power to an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
If your firm needs help getting claims prepared for settlement, click the button below to get in touch. The Case Works Talcum Powder Team is specially trained to work with cancer victims and their families to maximize the value of their claim. As a seamless extension of your firm, our Talcum Powder Team will ensure your clients receive exceptional service and the care they deserve. We can help your firm get claims proven up and ready to settle.