Product Liability

Talc is risk factor for ovarian cancer, found in plaintiff’s ovaries, experts testify

talc justice Talc is risk factor for ovarian cancer, found in plaintiffs ovaries, experts testifyAccording to Law360, during the second week of the first California talc trial, plaintiff Eva Echeverria called Canadian epidemiology expert Jack Siemiatycki, who explained how epidemiology identifies possible risk factors for diseases by examining their rates within defined populations. He has specific experience studying causes of ovarian cancer and contributed to the 2006 report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which found talc to be a “possible human carcinogen.”

In his explanations about his opinions regarding the available scientific literature on perineal talc use and its association with ovarian cancer, Siemiatycki said that since 2006 more research has confirmed what the Agency was already seeing. He “now thinks that it is more likely than not that talc can cause ovarian cancer, pointing to a 2013 study that looked at the histories of over 8,500 women as an important new piece of evidence,” Law360 reports.

Siemiatycki was testifying about talc as a risk factor for ovarian cancer in general. Echeverria called a different witness to testify that week about her personal cancer history. Recently retired Harvard pathology expert John Godleski examined ovarian tissue samples taken from reproductive organs when Echeverria’s cancer treatment required surgery. He told the jury that there was talc in Echeverria’s ovaries.

“In this case since we found eleven in the volume of tissue we looked at, we could apply that same kind of logic, and what we come away with is there’s a substantial burden of talc in Ms. Echeverria’s tissue,” he said according to Law360.

Not only did he tell the jury that talc was found in her ovarian tissue but also that he was convinced the talc particles originated from her genital talc use. Echeverria alleges that she used Johnson and Johnson’s talcum products according to instructions for decades before developing ovarian cancer in 2007. She blames the talc products, such as Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, for her cancer and Johnson and Johnson for not warning her of the risk even though the company was aware of decades of epidemiological studies linking its products to this cancer risk.

According to Law360, during the third week of the trial, her oncologist Annie Yessaian also testified that in considering Echeverria’s genetic testing, family history and health factors she had concluded that Echeverria would not have developed ovarian cancer had it not been for her decades of daily talc use for feminine hygiene. Yessaian explained to jurors the process by which studies have shown talc to cause chronic inflammation after migrating to the ovaries, and how that inflammation increases cancer risk. Yessaian also took the time to address other studies which have shown no link between talc and ovarian cancer. She told jurors that these studies had flawed methodology and data and looked at several of them individually explaining what they were missing.

“I did not look at one study, one element, one factor, one exposure; it is the totality of the evidence,” she said.

Echeverria’s is the first case against Johnson and Johnson over its talc products to go to trial out of the hundreds of claims filed in California which have been joined into a complex consolidated litigation. Most of the suits also include talc supplier Imerys Talc America as a co-defendant. Imerys won summary judgement on the claims against it in the weeks prior to this trial. However, Imerys was held liable by two Missouri juries during the five completed trials that took place there over the last year and half.

Four of the five juries found in favor of plaintiffs and held Johnson and Johnson responsible awarding damages. The verdicts were among some of 2016’s biggest product liability losses, coming in last year at $72 million, $55 million and $70 million, and this year’s, Johnson and Johnson’s biggest loss yet, was $110 million. There are more than 1,000 similar cases from women across the country filed in the City of St. Louis Circuit Court. The sixth Missouri talc trial which was declared a mistrial in June is rescheduled for October 16.

There are also talc trials pending in New Jersey, both claims filed in the state as well federal claims that have been consolidated into a multidistrict litigation; there were 426 in the MDL as of July 17.

Righting Injustice
United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation