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October 31, 2018

Notable Talc Case May Increase Similar Claims

In July 2018, a jury in Missouri Circuit Court rendered a verdict against Johnson & Johnson for $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages. The 22 women who brought suit alleged Johnson & Johnson's baby powder and body powders caused their ovarian cancer. While Johnson & Johnson intends to appeal the verdict, the staggering award marks a disturbing development for any manufacturer or insurer of talc-containing products.

Talc is used in many different products that include plastics, paints, coatings, and electrical products. Industrial talc is used most frequently in rubber, plastics, and ceramics. Cosmetic talc is milled from mines that are selected for high quality and purity and is used most frequently in makeup and as a food additive. While industrial talc claims have been litigated for many years and involve allegations of talc contaminated with asbestos, cosmetic talc cases are getting significantly more attention over the last few years.

Cosmetic talc cases fall into two types of claims, in which plaintiffs allege 1) the use of talc caused their ovarian cancer or 2) cosmetic talc contaminated with asbestos caused their mesothelioma. Many of the verdicts over the last several years against Johnson & Johnson involved plaintiffs who claimed their ovarian cancer was caused by talc, but there were no allegations in those cases that the talcum powder was contaminated with asbestos. In the most recent verdict against Johnson & Johnson, the plaintiffs' attorney combined these two approaches and argued the 22 women developed ovarian cancer from asbestos-contaminated talc. The success in this approach could represent a disturbing new front in talc litigation where plaintiffs may now have an easier path in proving causation, which has been the battleground of the litigation.

With the high number of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, the pool of plaintiffs is not insignificant and likely has the attention of many plaintiffs' lawyers. According to a recent securities filing, Johnson & Johnson alone faces about 10,600 talcum powder cases. Given the widespread use of talc in many types of products, insurers and in-house counsel would be well advised to continue to evaluate and analyze coverage for this litigation.


If you require further information regarding the content of this Legal Alert, please contact Heidi Brauer Ruchala, partner, at hruchala@barclaydamon.com, or another member of the firm's Mass & Toxic Torts Practice Area.

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