Deane Berg was just 49 years old when she was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer, one of the deadliest forms of the disease. It didn’t make sense that she would get sick. She didn’t have any risk factors. At least she didn’t think she did until she noticed an article citing a study about genital use of talcum powder contributing to ovarian cancer. She had used Johnson’s Baby Powder for feminine hygiene for three decades.
“I went into the bathroom, I grabbed my Johnson’s Baby Powder and threw it into the wastebasket,” Berg told the New York Times in 2016, 10 years after she was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Little did Berg know that she would lead a movement of awareness and reckoning. Berg became the first of thousands of women to file a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson alleging its talcum powder caused her disease. She referenced a dozen studies dating back decades that backed up her claims, including one from 1971 in which researchers in Wales found talc in ovarian and cervical tumors.
Berg had her day in court in 2013, and she won. The jury found in her favor, that Johnson & Johnson failed to warn consumers of the possible risk of ovarian cancer when the talc was used by women on the genitals. But the jury didn’t award her any damages. Nonetheless, the verdict raised awareness of the dangers associated with talcum powder, and paved the way for others to receive substantial awards, which would draw more public attention.
Three years later, a jury in St. Louis Circuit Court found Johnson & Johnson liable for deceased plaintiff Jacqueline Fox’s ovarian cancer and awarded her family $72 million comprised of $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages. In May 2016, another St. Louis jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay plaintiff Gloria Ristesund $55 million after finding the company liable for her cancer diagnosis. Two more St. Louis juries returned verdicts of $70 million and $110 million.
One of the biggest blows to Johnson & Johnson came when the first of hundreds of talc case in California went to trial. A Los Angeles jury awarded plaintiff Eva Echeverria $417 million. Another came in 2018, when a St. Louis jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.7 billion to 22 women who sued the company alleging the company’s talcum powder products caused their ovarian cancer. That was the first case to claim that Johnson & Johnson’s talc was contaminated with asbestos, a known carcinogen.
In December 2018, a week after Reuters published a report that claimed Johnson & Johnson knew for decades it’s talc was contained asbestos, Sen. Edward Markey, a member of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate Reuter’s claims.
The attorneys in our Mass Torts section have been privileged to represent thousands of women who developed ovarian cancer after using talcum powder in the genital area. Beasley Allen’s Talc Litigation team has partnered with other law firms around the country to take these cases to court. Ted Meadows is heading up the talc trial team, and Leigh O’Dell is serving as co-lead counsel for consolidated multidistrict litigation (MDL) in New Jersey federal court.
Additionally, talc has been linked to the development of mesothelioma, a rare but deadly cancer affects the lining of internal organs, usually the lungs or abdomen but also the heart. Sharon Zinns, a lawyer in our Atlanta office, is looking into claims of mesothelioma tied to asbestos-contaminated talc.