For over a decade, talc litigation has been a staple of mass toxic tort practices around the country and persists today. For those who are unfamiliar, talc is a naturally occurring mineral rock mined from the Earth that can occasionally cross paths and mix with asbestos during the mining and production process. When talc and asbestos mix in this setting, the risk of developing an illness arises. Talc came to be known for its fast absorption of moisture and its reduction of friction, properties which made it a common additive to cosmetic and hygiene-related products. For years, talc could be found in an abundance of products, most commonly in various cosmetic products, baby powder, and body powders.
The cases that involve talc are commonly standalone talc exposure cases, or they can include allegations of talc and asbestos exposure. Whichever style of claim is brought, these cases would not exist without the allegations of exposure-related injury, and in talc litigation, like asbestos, that injury is commonly alleged to be the onset of mesothelioma. When a case is filed under both a talc cause of action and an asbestos exposure cause of action, plaintiffs' attorneys are likely to attempt to develop the theory that the mesothelioma, or other disease, is caused by exposure to both asbestos and talc. In 2022, 11% of asbestos filings also included allegations of talc exposure.
Talc litigation continues to evolve, and a review of the recent claims against industry defendants reveals that the stakes have never been higher. In the last 18 months, from October 2021 to May 2023, there have been a total of nine jury verdicts for cosmetic-only talc matters. The average award being a whopping $29,245,454.00. One reason that many consider why the average jury verdict is so outrageously high for talc-only exposure cases is the personal nature of these claims. Personal in the sense that talc exposure can occur in private, while you're in a vulnerable state, in the safety of your home, and even with a newborn.
However, not all talc cases return results for the plaintiff. In Cook County, Illinois, a Decedent alleged talc exposure through after bath powder products. The Decedent suffered from mesothelioma and was 73 years old at the time of his death. The jury returned a defense verdict.
Today, due to the growing number of talc cases filed, a few talc suppliers, including Whitaker Clark & Daniels, have had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In April 2023, the New York Times reported that Johnson & Johnson has agreed to pay $8.9 billion over the next 25 years to those who claim talcum powder, produced by Johnson & Johnson, caused their cancer. In fact, talc litigation is so critical to Johnson & Johnson's corporate survival that, according to annual filings, Johnson & Johnson has paid $7.4 billion in litigation expenses between 2020 and 2021, with talc litigation as the primary legal expense.
If this talc litigation trend continues, subsequent bankruptcies and payouts by companies could occur potentially affecting who is sued, the allegations of exposure, and target defendants. This litigation is only growing, and it will be interesting to see future jury verdicts, bankruptcies, and theories.
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