Risks on All Sides as 4,800 Women Sue J&J Over Baby Powder and Cancer


Thousands of women across the country are suing the consumer goods giant Johnson & Johnson over its baby powder, claiming that talcum particles in the popular product caused their ovarian cancer.

The plaintiffs, however, are not working as a team. They are taking the company to court one at a time.

In many product liability complaints, class action status is difficult to win, given the various ways the product can be sold and used. Such cases often end up being individually litigated with the expectation that there will eventually be a mass payout.

This approach can be effective, according to plaintiffs’ lawyers. Each successive verdict, they say, sends a signal about how much plaintiffs can expect to be paid if, and when, a company agrees to settle.

“You can’t get to a global settlement until both sides have a really clear sense of the strengths and weaknesses and value of these claims,” said Nora Freeman Engstrom, a professor at Stanford Law School. “And the only way to test that is on the battlefield, which is trial.”

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