But other types of product liability cases are much more complicated, particularly those involving prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs or personal care products. These lawsuits often rely on allegations that the company knew that its product could be dangerous and failed to adequately warn consumers about those dangers. One of the reasons these cases can be so complicated is that it may take years for patients to develop health problems, and those problems can’t always be traced back to the dangerous product.

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As an example, Johnson & Johnson is currently facing at least 70 lawsuits related to some of its oldest and most successful products: Those containing talcum powder. For those who don’t know, talc is a mineral that has long been the key ingredient in baby powder and other personal-care powders used to keep skin dry and to reduce odor.

J&J has been selling Johnson’s Baby Powder and “Shower to Shower” for decades, and has marketed its products to women to be used for feminine hygiene (sprinkled in underwear or on the genitals). But numerous studies dating as far back as the early 1970s have suggested that regularly using talc for feminine hygiene is associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

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This potential link is not very widely known for several reasons. First of all, the scientific community has not been able to conclusively prove a causal relationship. This is in spite of about 20 epidemiological studies showing a significant correlation. The other major reason is that Johnson & Johnson, its suppliers and competitors have steadfastly refused to warn the public that talc used for feminine hygiene could be an ovarian cancer risk. The company has known about and denied such claims since at least the early 1990s.

Many plaintiffs in these lawsuits say that if that had known cancer was even a remote possibility, it would have outweighed the very modest benefits of using talc for feminine hygiene.

Unfortunately, because the science is still inconclusive, these plaintiffs may be facing an uphill battle. But at the very least, these women are helping warn the public that talc could be more dangerous than advertised.

Source: NJ Spotlight, “Link Between Talcum Powder And Ovarian Cancer Sparks Growing Legal Battle,” Myron Levin, April 30, 2015

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