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Do Talcum Powder Manufacturers Have a “Duty to Warn” Women About Ovarian Cancer Risks?

For several decades scientists have been researching the link between women’s use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer. While government regulatory agencies have yet to declare such a link exists, that has not prevented juries in states like South Dakota and Missouri from holding the manufacturers of talcum powder—notably Johnson & Johnson, the world’s most famous seller of what is marketed as “baby powder”—liable for failing to disclose the apparent risks to women. Such “failure to warn” may help thousands of plaintiffs in other states, including Tennessee, establish Johnson & Johnson’s liability for women who used talcum powder without being made fully aware of its possible ovarian cancer connection.

The FDA Does Not Guarantee the Safety of Talcum Powder

At the outset, it is important to understand that talcum powder is considered a “cosmetic” rather than a “drug.” This is a critical legal distinction. In the United States, a “drug” may not be sold to consumers without the prior approval of the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA requires drug manufacturers to adhere to rigorous testing protocols in order to establish that a product is “safe and effective” for human use. And even with such oversight, many dangerous and defective drugs still make it onto the marketplace.

Cosmetics, in contrast, are “regulated” but not “approved” by the FDA. This means that for the most part, a cosmetics manufacturer does not have to demonstrate a product’s safety to the government before selling it to consumers. But the FDA can punish a manufacturer that sells “adulterated” or “misbranded” cosmetics. And cosmetics companies still have a legal duty under the laws of Tennessee and other states to ensure the safety of their products.

Tennessee Law Can Hold Cosmetic Companies Liable for “Failure to Warn”

The Tennessee Product Liability Act (TPLA) governs all defective product claims in this state, including those relating to cosmetics. The TPLA holds a manufacturer liable for any “injury to a person” caused by a product that is “determined to be in a defective condition or unreasonably dangerous at the time it left the control of the manufacturer or seller.” Product liability under the TPLA extends to a manufacturer’s “testing, service, warning, instruction, marketing, packaging or labeling of any product.”

In previous talcum powder cases, plaintiffs have successfully argued that Johnson & Johnson was liable for “failing to warn” consumers about the increased risk of ovarian cancer arising from the genital application of its baby powder. Indeed, Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder only contains warnings against inhalation and internal use, but not against external application in and and around a woman’s genital area. Again, it must be emphasized that talcum powder is a cosmetic; there is no medical reason to apply baby powder to the genital area, and most doctors advise using cornstarch as a safe alternative to talc.

Do You Suspect Talcum Powder Use Led to Your Ovarian Cancer?

The failure to warn issue is likely to come up many more times as Johnson & Johnson is presently fighting over 1,200 reported lawsuits brought by victims of ovarian cancer. If you or a family member have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and suspect the use of baby powder may have been a contributing factor, it is imperative that you contact a Tennessee talcum powder lawsuit attorney as soon as possible. The lawyers at the Knoxville and Clinton offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, are ready to take your call.

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