Johnson & Johnson baby powder users want cancer monitoring even if it costs billions

Johnson & Johnson baby powder users want cancer monitoring even if it costs billions

WILMINGTON, Delaware - Johnson & Johnson should be on the hook for potentially billions of dollars in medical fees for women who used its talc-based baby powders and want to monitor their future health over cancer fears, according to a lawsuit.

Lawyers representing ex-talc users asked a US federal judge on June 17 to set up a so-called “medical-monitoring class” to cover the expenses of doctor’s visits and tests for women worried about gynecological and ovarian cancers.

The suit is the latest salvo in the ongoing legal battle between J&J and former talc users, who allege the world’s largest maker of health-care products hid the cancer risks of its iconic baby powder for almost half a century. J&J is seeking the backing from thousands of people who have sued over the product for an US$11 billion (S$14.9 billion) settlement of the claims.

“This kind of monitoring system, especially if covers thousands of women, will be expensive since it goes on for the rest of their lives,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond professor who teaches about mass-tort law. “It could cost J&J hundreds of millions, if not billions, to cover these costs.”

Clare Boyle, a J&J spokesperson, had no immediate comment.

Such medical-surveillance programmes have been approved in other mass-tort cases, including claims that Dutch manufacturer Koninklijke Philips hid flaws in its line of machines designed to treat sleep apnea. The company agreed as part of a US$1.1 billion settlement earlier this year to set up a health-monitoring program for users.

J&J now faces more than 61,000 lawsuits blaming talc used in baby power and similar products for different types of cancers. Many of those cases have been consolidated before the judge in New Jersey who is overseeing the proposed medical-monitoring class-action case. Other cases are set for trial in state courts.

Since 2014, at least a dozen juries have awarded a total of more than US$6.5 billion in damages to consumers blaming the powder for their cancers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. Many of those awards later were reduced or thrown out on appeal.

J&J maintains its talc-based products don’t cause cancer and it has marketed its baby powder appropriately for more than a century. The company has won a number of cases in court and had other suits dismissed before trial. J&J withdrew its talc-based powders worldwide at the end of 2023 and replaced it with a cornstarch version.

Plaintiffs want the judge to certify a class that covers US women who’ve used talc from 1960 to now, and who haven’t already filed an individual suit. They also want their spouses, parents and dependent children included in the class.

Former talc users want the judge to order J&J to set up a fund to cover monitoring expenses, including “baseline assessments, diagnostic testing, and preventative measures,” according to the 137-page complaint. BLOOMBERG

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