In a Big Win, Plaintiffs’ Experts can Testify in Talc-Ovarian Cancer Litigation

A federal judge in New Jersey has ruled that scientific and medical experts proposed by the plaintiffs’ experts are qualified to testify about how genital talc use causes ovarian cancer. The ruling has major implications for ongoing state and federal litigation against Johnson & Johnson.

The ruling paves the way for future bellwether trials that could establish compensatory and punitive damage guidelines for the more than 16,000 cases pending in the MDL.

The ruling is a big win for plaintiffs’ attorneys, who for years have faced accusations from Johnson & Johnson about allowing “junk science” into the courtroom. J&J sought to bar all of the plaintiffs’ experts from testifying, which would have effectively wiped out all the cases before Wolfson.

“These experts report on the growing amount of peer-reviewed medical literature regarding talcum powder and ovarian cancer and represent the increasing number of highly respected researchers and doctors who are standing up to tell the world about the dangers of talcum powder,” said Leigh O’Dell, co-chair of the plaintiffs’ steering committee. “These respected and qualified experts will now testify in trials about the risk factors and causes of ovarian cancer, and the biological links of talcum powder use to this deadly disease.”

The clinical experts initially challenged by the defense but now cleared to testify about the dangers of talcum powder use include:

  • Anne McTiernan, MD, Ph.D. – Research Professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology and the University of Washington School of Medicine, and a cancer prevention researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
  • Arch “Chip” Carson, MD, Ph.D. – Associate Professor and Program Director for the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston.
  • Daniel Clarke-Pearson, MD – Professor and recent Chairman in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, specializing in gynecologic oncology.
    Judge Wolfson’s ruling allows additional testimony from the following experts:
  • Ghassan Saed MD, Ph.D. – Research Professor in the Departments of Obstetric Gynecology and Oncology at Wayne State University and the Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit. Dr. Saed will testify about his clinical research demonstrating that talcum powder can cause inflammation and oxidative stress in cells.
  • William Longo, Ph.D. – Material scientist/electron microscopist and founder of Georgia’s Micro Analytical Laboratories, specializing in the analysis of asbestos and mineral fiber-containing materials. Dr. Longo will testify that J&J talcum powder products contain asbestos and fibrous talc, based on his analysis using transmission electron microscopy.

“We are obviously pleased with the court’s ruling and are eager to move forward, said Michelle Parfitt, co-chair of the plaintiffs’ steering committee. “Epidemiologists and gynecologic oncologists will be allowed to testify that talcum powder causes ovarian cancer, including their opinions regarding the contribution of asbestos, fibrous talc, and metals to its carcinogenicity.”

The ruling by Wolfson will allow plaintiffs to present expert testimony that J&J’s talc products can cause cancer-based on epidemiological studies. They will be allowed to testify that the link could be caused by contamination with asbestos and heavy metals.

Wolfson also ruled that the plaintiffs’ experts cannot testify that inhaling talc can travel to the ovaries if inhaled, though they may say that it can reach the ovaries when used vaginally.

The case is In Re: Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Products Marketing, Sales Practices, and Products Liability Litigation (MDL No. 2738). There are 16,594 cases consolidated before Chief US District Judge Freda L. Wolfson.

In 2018 J&J finally complied with discovery requests, which disclosed damning revelations that its own tests have found asbestos in its talc for 60 years and that the company lied to the FDA about it.

Since then plaintiff lawyers have introduced the internal documents into evidence with devastating results at trial. Most of the verdicts have involved plaintiffs with mesothelioma.

  • $4.7 billion awarded in December 2018 to 22 women with ovarian cancer. A Missouri state jury made the award after it heard that Johnson & Johnson has known for decades about the risk of asbestos contamination in its talc.
  • $325 million awarded in May 2019 in New York to Donna Olson, whose mesothelioma was caused asbestos-laced Johnson & Johnson baby powder. The company’s damning internal documents were used as evidence.
  • $117 million awarded by a New Jersey jury in April 2018 to Steven Alonzo, who has mesothelioma.
  • $40.3 million awarded by a California jury in October 2019 to Nancy and Phil Cabibi because the company’s baby powder was tainted with asbestos. In 2017, Nancy was diagnosed with mesothelioma.
  • $37.3 million awarded by a New Jersey jury in September 2019 to four plaintiffs claiming they developed mesothelioma from inhaling asbestos allegedly present in Johnson & Johnson’s cosmetic talc products. The judge actually struck the closing argument by defense lawyer Diane Sullivan for accusing the plaintiffs’ attorneys of creating evidence and being sinister.

The talc litigation may eventually cost the company as much as $10 billion, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

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