Class actions brewing in state over Johnson & Johnson baby powder and cancer

By Andrew Burger | Jun 23, 2016

NEW ORLEANS – A local attorney and legal watchdog organization both expect to see class-action lawsuits filed in the state over allegations that Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products cause ovarian cancer. 

At the request of plaintiff Paula Jackson, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana New Orleans Division recently removed Rio Tinto Minerals Inc. from a lawsuit alleging the talcum powder products caused the New Orleans woman's ovarian cancer, but Jackson's case -- and many others like it -- are far from over.

Jackson's suit named Johnson & Johnson as the primary defendant. She claims that her regular application of talc-based Shower to Shower and Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder to her perineum on a daily basis from 1974 until 2015 is to blame for her ovarian cancer. 

Her suit is just one of more than 1,200 federal and state lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson claiming the New Jersey company ignored scientific studies linking talcum-powder products to cancer.

Melissa Landry, executive director of the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, believes that the state is ripe for a class-action suit involving the cases because Lousiana courts here are considered "plaintiff friendly," and its attorneys "talented and creative" when it comes to establishing class actions.

"The notion of our plaintiff-friendly courts creates at least the perception there is an incentive for filing lawsuits, and class-action lawsuits in particular, in Louisiana courts," Landry told the Louisiana Record. "Louisiana is a sought-after jurisdiction for class-action lawsuits."

In fact, that is why Louisiana routinely ranks poorly in comparison to other states on surveys pertaining to the state's legal climate.

The groundwork has already been set for the class-action suit against Johnson & Johnson.


Earlier this year, a St. Louis court ordered the company to pay $72 million to the family of Jackie Fox, a woman who died from ovarian cancer; and last month, it was hit with another $55 million ruling by another jury in St. Louis in a suit filed by Gloria Ristesund, of South Dakota.

"It will be very interesting to watch what transpires here in Louisiana in the wake of the St. Louis jury trials," attorney Peter Russell, of McBride & Russell Law Firm LLC in Gretna, told the Louisiana Record

In addition to the multi-million dollar judgments, a lot in the way of new information has come out in the cases tried so far, Russell pointed out.

In the first lawsuit filed against Johnson & Johnson over the talcum powder issue, a South Dakota court ruled in 2013 that Deane Berg's use of Shower to Shower and Johnson's Baby Powder was linked to the onset of her ovarian cancer. During the trial, an attorney representing the multinational consumer products manufacturer admitted company executives had known about the links between its talcum powder products and ovarian cancer for years, but decided the risk was not significant enough to require a product warning.

That admission came back to haunt Johnson & Johnson in both of the St. Louis cases.

"The basis for the judges' decisions was that Johnson & Johnson was aware of the links between its talcum powder products and cancer for more than 20 years, but chose to withhold that information from the public," Russell said.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and published earlier this month in Cancer Epidemiology reinforced at least part of what Johnson & Johnson allegedly already knew --  African-American women who regularly use talcum powder are at a greater risk for ovarian cancer compared to their peers who don’t use powder. 

This particularly doesn't bode well for Johnson & Johnson because previous suits revealed the company slanted its marketing efforts for the sale of talcum powders specifically toward African-American women in the 1990s.

Like Landry, Russell thinks it's just a matter of time before a class-action suit is filed in Louisiana over the cases.

"You could see a very large class action here," he said. 

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Organizations in this Story

Johnson & Johnson Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch McBride & Russell Law Firm Rio Tinto U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

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