Lawford Kidd, Personal Injury Solicitors

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Johnson & Johnson to Pay £51m in Compensation for Cancer-Causing Product

Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has been ordered by a US court to pay around $51 million in compensation to the family of a woman who suffered from ovarian cancer, allegedly caused by regular use of the company’s talcum powder.

The case was heard in St. Louis, Missouri where the jury determined that the company had failed in their obligation to warn users of the potential risks of using the product, despite the American Cancer Society raising concerns about the product in 1999. Many US manufacturers have since switched to using corn starch as a result of the concerns. However, a number of manufacturers in the UK continue to use alleged cancer- causing substance talcum.

Johnson & Johnson is now facing 1200 lawsuits in the United States as a result of the ruling, with users claiming they were not adequately warned about the risks of using the product.

Facts of the Case

Mrs Fox passed away last year after suffering from ovarian cancer. Mrs allegedly used two of Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based products, Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, for 35 years before being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Krista Smith, the head of the jury, outlined that the jury felt the company had been disingenuous in the way they sold their products. She said:

“It was really clear they were hiding something. All they had to do was put a warning label on.”

Johnson & Johnson were ordered to pay the family of Mrs Fox $10 million in compensation, and a punitive award of $62 million for their failure to warn consumers of the dangers of using talc-based products.

Is talcum powder dangerous?

Before scientists had a fuller understanding of the dangers of asbestos, talcum powder was very often contaminated with asbestos fibres, well known to cause cancer. However since the 1970’s, all household products are legally required to be asbestos free. So is talcum powder still dangerous? Some scientists have suggested that talc particles may travel to and irritate the ovaries causing inflammation. Long-term, low-level inflammation may increase the risk of certain types of cancer. However, this theory is not well supported by scientific evidence, and studies observing whether anti-inflammatory drugs could prevent cancer have proven to be ineffective. The studies cited that suggested a connection between talc and ovarian cancer, and most of the evidence relied upon was based on the fact that many manufacturers had recalled talcum-based products.

Cancer Research UK states on its website:

“If something truly causes cancer, you would expect people who are exposed to more of that thing to have a higher risk. For example, the more you smoke, the higher your risk of lung cancer. But the majority of the studies have not found a similar relationship for talc use and ovarian cancer.”

Also, ovarian cancer charity Ovacome said:

“The evidence for a link is weak, but even if talc does increase the risk of ovarian cancer studies suggest it would be by around a third. This is a modest increase in risk, and ovarian cancer is a relatively rare disease. Increasing a small risk by a third still gives a small risk.”

Could there be a similar case in the UK?

If a case were to be brought in the UK, the case would not be determined by a jury. This would mean that it would be a judge who would need to determine whether there was enough evidence to support the claim that Johnson & Johnson were obliged to warn consumers about any risks associated with their talcum-based products. To make a successful claim, the claimant would be required to prove that the talcum powder products of the company were bringing the claim against a caused cancer, and also that the product was at least partially to blame for the claimant developing cancer. The difficulty with cancer claims is that there are many factors which may have contributed to causing cancer. It can be very difficult to prove that one suspected cause actually contributed to developing the disease.

Johnson & Johnson issued a statement insisting that the products are safe:

“We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers, and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial. We sympathise with the plaintiff’s family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence."

Consumer Products and the Law

When you purchase a product, you assume that the product has gone through a certain number of tests and checks to ensure it is safe for use – you also have the right to assume this. However, every so often products reach the shelves that are not safe to use, or evidence is later discovered which proves the product may be dangerous. If you have purchased a product that is faulty, defective or unsafe and this product causes you injury, you may be able to make a personal injury claim. Faulty or unsafe product claims cover a vast range of circumstances. For example:

- If you purchase an item of furniture which breaks under your weight and causes you injury

- If you purchase an electrical item which catches fire and causes you injury

- If you are injured using defective gym or sports equipment

- If you purchase food which is contaminated and causes you to suffer illness

Contact our Personal Injury Solicitors Scotland

Theses are just examples of some of the circumstances under which you may be able to bring a personal injury claim against the person or business that has caused you injury. If you have been injured by a faulty product, in the workplace or suffered from negligence or a breach of health and safety standards you could be entitled to make a personal injury claim. Contact us today to find out if you could be entitled to make a claim using our online contact form or give us a call on 0808 159 9292.

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