A Chicago woman is suing Walgreens and Johnson & Johnson, alleging her prolonged use of Johnson & Johnson’s talc products and baby powder caused ovarian cancer, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.
Andrea Harris’ lawsuit is the latest among more than 1,000 talcum powder-related suits to hit Johnson & Johnson. Some are notable because of their large payouts: In October, a St. Louis jury awarded more than $70 million to a California woman with ovarian cancer who had used J&J baby powder for four decades. That case followed two other big talc-related verdicts, for $72 million and $55 million, against J&J in 2016. None of those three lawsuits included Walgreens Boots Alliance as a defendant.
It’s not clear how many talc suits have involved Walgreens. Harris regularly purchased Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products from Walgreens between 1980 and 2006. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015 and continues to undergo treatment for the disease.
The lawsuit accuses Walgreens of involvement beyond simply selling J&J products. According to the complaint, Walgreens maintains a joint office with J&J in Buffalo Grove, Ill. This office develops business plans for distributing and marketing J&J items, including talcum products, specifically to Walgreens shoppers.
From this office, “J&J and Walgreens implement strategies to influence consumers’ purchase of J&J baby powder products from Walgreens, including through data analytics of customers’ purchases and loyalty and rewards programs,” the suit alleges.
The lawsuit is based on the argument that, beginning in 1971, more than 20 studies have provided data regarding an association between talc and ovarian cancer; most, according to the lawsuit, have reported an elevated risk in ovarian cancer in women who use talc in the genital area. In 1993, the United States National Toxicology Program found the substance to be a carcinogen.
The lawsuit alleges J&J and Walgreens were aware of the risk and also sold safe, non-talc, cornstarch-based products that could be used for the same purpose. Yet they continued to market the talc products as a safe way for women to “feel soft, fresh and comfortable.”
From the shared Buffalo Grove office, Walgreens is alleged to have assessed the products for “safety, efficacy and suitability” and to have jointly created labels, promotional materials and marketing campaigns endorsing the use of the talc products in the genital area. The complaint alleges negligence, breach of warranty, negligent misrepresentation and fraud. It claims that the products failed — and continue to fail — to provide adequate warning regarding the increased risk of cancer. It argues J&J and Walgreens have continued to market and advertise talc products to women for feminine hygiene purposes despite decades of scientific research that show the cancer risk.
The suit seeks unspecified damages, including compensatory damages in excess of $50,000 for pain and suffering; economic damages related to medical expenses and lost earnings; and punitive damages for “the wanton, willful, fraudulent, reckless acts” of J&J and Walgreens.
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