J&J Begins Another Trial Over Claims Its Talc Causes Cancer

Legislation & Litigation

Phil and Bernard Matthey’s wrongful death lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson has headed to trial. The suit claims the company is responsible for selling asbestos-contaminated baby powder that caused the death of the plaintiffs’ mother. Patricia Matthey died from ovarian cancer at the age of 72 In 2019. The Mattheys’ lawsuit notes their mother had used J&J’s talc-based product for most of her life. 

Attorney for the plaintiffs, Lance Oliver, told the jury that Patricia Matthey applied baby powder to her body 41,000 times over the course of 50 years. He also told the jury that J&J continued selling the baby powder for decades despite knowing that the product can be hazardous to consumers’ health. 

Oliver pointed to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2019 discovery of chrysotile asbestos in a batch of the company’s baby powder. J&J issued a recall at the time and eventually phased out its talc-based baby powder, switching to a cornstarch-based product.

“If J&J had simply been honest from the very beginning with what they knew about their product, then we would not be here today, and Pat Matthey and her family would not have gone through what they went through,” Oliver added.

Defense attorney Mort Dubin asked the jury to set aside their sympathy for the Matthey family and suggested claims that asbestos-contaminated talc causes ovarian cancer are based on flawed scientific studies. J&J claims its products underwent extensive safety tests. 

“Despite decades and decades of studies – studies over and over looking at this question, no U.S. health authority has ever concluded that cosmetic talc causes ovarian cancer, in fact it’s exactly the contrary,” Dubin claimed during his opening statement.

J&J Trials and Asbestos Dangers

This is one of the first J&J trials in Florida concerning the link between cancer and talc products. It comes just one month after another Florida J&J talc trial ended in a mistrial. In that case, Bob Sugarman claimed the company’s talc products caused the death of his wife Marilyn Seskin, MD. He sought more than $14M in damages. The jury was unable to agree on a verdict.

These are nearly 54,000 talcum powder cases still awaiting trial against J&J. The lawsuits claim asbestos-contaminated talc in J&J’s products can cause mesothelioma, ovarian cancer and other asbestos-related diseases. Since the 1970s, asbestos has been detected in talcum powder according to a number of lab tests. 

Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma. If inhaled the toxic mineral can become lodged in the body, resulting in inflammation, scarring or respiratory problems even many decades after initial exposure. No level of asbestos exposure is considered safe.

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