Talc Litigation – Stop the Madness

Back in September, Judge Johnson, of New Jersey, wrapped up a talc ovarian cancer case in Kemp, and politely excused the case from any further obligations to show up in court. Carl v. Johnson & Johnson, No. ATL-L-6546-14, 2016 WL 4580145 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div., Atl. Cty., Sept. 2, 2016) [cited as Carl]. See “New Jersey Kemps Ovarian Cancer – Talc Cases” (Sept. 16, 2016).

In Giannecchini v. Johnson & Johnson, a Missouri jury returned a substantial verdict for plaintiff. The jury, by a 9 to 3 vote, awarded $575,000 for claimed economic loss, and $2 million for non-economic compensatory damages. The jury also found defendant Johnson & Johnson in need of punishment to the tune of $65,000,000, and Imerys Talc America Inc. for $2.5 million. Plaintiffs, having sought $285 million, were no doubt disappointed. The Giannecchini verdict was the third large verdict in the Missouri talc litigation. See Myron Levin, “Johnson & Johnson Hammered Again in Talc-Ovarian Cancer Verdict of $70 Million,” (Oct. 27, 2016); Brandon Lowrey, “J & J, Talc Co. Hit With $70M Baby Powder Cancer Verdict,” Law360 (Oct. 2016).

In his closing argument, Giannecchini’s lawyer, R. Allen Smith, reportedly accused Johnson & Johnson of having “rigged” regulatory agencies to ignore the dangers of talc, and of having “falsified” medical records to hide the problem. Smith implored the jury to “make them stop”; make them “stop this madness.”

Make them stop the madness, indeed. The November 2016 issue of Epidemiology features a publication of the “Sister Study,” which explored whether there was any association between perineal talc use and ovarian cancer. The authors acknowledged, as had Judge Johnson in the Carl case, that some prior case-control studies had found an increased risk of ovarian cancer, but that prospective cohort studies have not confirmed an association. Nicole L. Gonzalez, Katie M. O’Brien, Aimee A. D’Aloisio, Dale P. Sandler, and Clarice R. Weinberg, “Douching, Talc Use, and Risk of Ovarian Cancer,” 27 Epidemiology 797 (2016).

The Sister Study (2003–2009) followed a cohort of 50,884 women whose sisters had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Talc use was ascertained at baseline, before diagnosis of subsequent disease and before any chance for selective recall. The cohort was followed for a median of 6.6 years, in which time there were 154 cases of ovarian cancer during the follow up, available for analysis using Cox’s proportional hazards model. Perineal talc use at baseline was not associated with later ovarian cancer. The authors reported a hazard ratio of 0.73, less than expected, with a 95% confidence interval of 0.44, 1.2.

So, yes, make them stop this madness; close the gate.

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