On August 21st, 2017, jurors in California determined Johnson & Johnson acted negligently and were guilty of “willfully and consciously disregarding the rights and safety of others.” As a result of such conclusions, the jurors awarded Plaintiff Eva Echeverria a total of $417 million, which comprised of $347 million in punitive damages and $70 million dollars in compensatory damages.
Eva Echeverria was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007 after using Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based Baby Powder for decades. Echeverria’s case was the first case to be tried in the complex litigation consolidating California claims against J&J. Eva and six other female victims accused J&J of failing to properly alert consumers of the dangers associated with the talc in their products, despite prior knowledge of an association between talc and ovarian cancer.
The five preceding trials have dealt with the same question: Does the talcum powder in J&J’s hygienic care products cause ovarian cancer? The six trials have left plaintiffs with five victories, resulting in a total of a $724 million dollars awarded in verdicts.
Features of the Sixth Trial
In the weeks leading up to the sixth talcum powder trial, J&J was able to successfully prevent several expert’s testimony from being heard. During trial, the defense claimed that the statistical link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder use was weak, and explained the difference between a small statistical correlation and an actual causal relationship.
The Plaintiff’s counsel highlighted to jurors that J&J had internal documents acknowledging safe, alternative substances to talc. Counsel also stated that J&J were in possession of letters from lobbyists warning the company of studies that suggested a link between ovarian cancer and genital talc use. During the closing arguments, the Plaintiff’s lawyer did not specify a dollar amount they were requesting in damages. Instead, he asked the jury to consider an award amount that would cause some type of financial ruin to the company, emphasizing that J&J maintains a net worth of over $1.5 billion.
What’s to Come in the Talcum Powder Litigation
There are presently hundreds of cases pending in St. Louis against Johnson & Johnson. More trials will be scheduled soon, and additional trials are currently scheduled in California. A Multi-District Litigation (MDL) in New Jersey has been formed with numerous cases filed, as well. With hundreds of complaints filed and verdicts awarded against J&J, legal experts anticipate the company will likely negotiate and agree to settlements in the future. Until then, we will closely watch the trials to come.
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