As Johnson & Johnson continues to grapple with hundreds of lawsuits in courts across the country alleging links between its products containing talcum powder to ovarian cancer, Walgreens now also faces legal action for selling such products, in an action recently introduced in Cook County court.
In a complaint filed Nov. 13 in Cook County Circuit Court, Illinois resident Denise Brooks said Walgreen Co. was negligent in selling J&J’s baby powder and their Shower-to-Shower products. She said she “regularly used the products in her perineal region and suffered from severe physical, economic and emotional injuries,” including ovarian cancer.
The case builds on accusations leveled against J&J in more than 1,000 lawsuits filed in courts across the country. In those suits, plaintiffs have alleged J&J knew of an alleged link between ovarian cancer and their talc-based products for decades, as far back as the 1970s. Yet plaintiffs say the company did nothing so as to continue selling more products, even targeting the women who grew up using them.
In Missouri, juries have awarded verdicts worth a combined $200 million in such cases, including verdict awards of $72 million in February 2016 and $55 million in May 2016 in St. Louis City Circuit Court. A Missouri state appeals court in October 2017 tossed out the $72 million verdict, potentially imperiling the other verdicts, as well.
In her lawsuit against Walgreens, Brooks’ complaint points out J&J jointly operates a Buffalo Grove office with Walgreens where the two companies “develop and implement strategic business plans for Johnson & Johnson products.” She further said the companies “coordinate sales, distribution, marketing, shopper insight, customer loyalty to Walgreen, customer rewards, Walgreen shoppers’ trending specific to the Johnson & Johnson’s products, sales, sales goals and customer service.”
Her formal allegations against Walgreens include strict liability, negligence, breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty and fraud.
As with preceding complaints, Brooks cited studies from as far back as 1971 indicating a link between talc and ovarian cancer. When dusted on genitals, underwear or sanitary products, the studies note talc particles can travel up the reproductive tract where they can eventually become lodged in the ovaries, inflamed, and possibly lead to cancer.
The first talc case went to trial in federal court in South Dakota in 2013 on the claims of plaintiff Deane Berg, of Sioux Falls. A physician’s assistant, Berg was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer at age 49 in 2006. That jury did not award Berg monetary damages, but it did — as Brooks alleged — find Johnson & Johnson intentionally hid facts about the risks of talcum powder use and cancer.
Brooks said she used the products for more than 20 years by, as advertised, applying them directly to her underwear or sanitary pads after showering. In 2014 she was diagnosed with low-grade serous carcinoma involving both ovaries, but she said it was not until Feb. 2, 2017, that she learned of the connection between the products and the cancer, leading her to accuse Walgreens of taking “considerable effort to conceal the risk.”
She said Walgreens was aware of safer alternatives to J&J’s talc-based products, but failed to force the issue or to compel J&J to incorporate adequate warning labels. She also said Walgreens had an obligation to directly inform consumers about the connection between talc-based products and ovarian cancer, especially with direct application to genital areas - steps the company still has not taken.
In addition to a jury trial, Brooks seeks judgment “in a sum in excess of jurisdictional limits.”
Representing Brooks in the matter are Meyers & Flowers LLC, of St. Charles, and The Miller Firm LLC, of Orange, Va.