Talc attorney says J&J used law firm to shield contribution for journal article

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J&J is defending its talc powder against 22 plaintiffs who allege routine use caused ovarian cancer. (Johnson & Johnson)

In its yearslong talc defense, J&J has pointed to scientific studies demonstrating the key consumer product is safe. This week, as the company faces its biggest legal test yet over the product, an attorney for the plaintiffs showed in court a video deposition of the company's chief medical officer Joanne Waldstreicher in which the attorney alleges J&J partially funded a review article on talc safety through a law firm.

In the video, plaintiff's attorney Mark Lanier questioned Waldstreicher about a 2008 review article he alleges J&J partly funded through the law firm Crowell & Moring, according to the transcript. The authors only disclosed funding from the firm, and never disclosed any link to J&J. 

Reading correspondence relating to the article, Lanier laid out the alleged link during the deposition, which took place in April 2017. 

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According to the transcript, a Crowell representative wrote an email to a J&J employee reading "our plan is for Crowell & Moring to retain the doctors so as to preserve the benefit of the attorney work product privilege, which is helpful in protecting confidentiality." 

In their review article, the doctors concluded "these data collectively do not indicate that cosmetic talc causes ovarian cancer." They acknowledged the work was supported by a contract from Crowell & Moring. 

Questioned repeatedly on the issue by Lanier, Waldstreicher said she couldn't comment on the email and that it's up to journal authors to disclose their funding. 

During the deposition that lasted about six and a half hours, Lanier outlined several other documents from J&J and other groups that suggest asbestos has been found in some talc samples, and that the company addressed the subject in internal correspondence.

Waldstreicher responded repeatedly that the company has experts who ensure talc safety and that she believes the product is safe and free of asbestos. She previously recorded a video about talc safety for J&J. 

RELATED: With its case count climbing, Johnson & Johnson faces major test in talc defense 

Lanier played the deposition video this week for the jury in J&J's largest talc case yet, one that combines the claims of 22 plaintiffs alleging their routine use led to ovarian cancer. Six of the plaintiffs have passed away. 

When the trial started, a J&J spokeswoman said "Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause ovarian cancer and we will continue to defend the safety of our product." She reiterated the message when asked about the deposition video.

So far in its talc defense, J&J has lost cases in St. Louis worth $55 million, $70 million, $72 million and $110 million. The company has pledged to appeal in each instance and convinced a judge to overturn the $72 million verdict. The company was successful in overturning a separate $417 million verdict in Los Angeles.

J&J has also won ovarian cancer talc cases in New Jersey and St. Louis. 

RELATED: Johnson & Johnson suffers another cancer-suit loss as talc case count climbs above 9,000  

Aside from the ovarian cancer cases, some mesothelioma talc cases have recently made it to trial. Mesothelioma plaintiffs this year have secured verdicts of $117 million and $25.75 million, and J&J said it would appeal. J&J last year won a Los Angeles mesothelioma case. Another in South Carolina ended in a mistrial last month. 

As of J&J's most recent quarterly filing with the SEC, the company faces about 9,100 lawsuits alleging harm from talc powder use. 

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