The four-week long trial in California, the first talc ovarian cancer trial in the state, has concluded with an attention-getting verdict of $417 million, $110 million more than all four of the previous Missouri verdicts combined.
Over the last year and a half, Johnson and Johnson has faced some huge product liability losses due to allegations that its talc-containing products cause ovarian cancer. Four St. Louis juries found in favor of plaintiffs, agreeing that the company should have warned women of ovarian cancer risk. The verdicts totaled more than $300 million: $72 million in February of 2016, $55 million and $70 million later that year, and then $110 million in May this year. There are about 4,800 claims in courts across the country, and this month has had many people watching to see the results of the first trial outside of Missouri.
Plaintiff Eva Echeverria was the first of hundreds who have filed in California court to go to trial. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer 10 years ago, she has been using Johnson and Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products for feminine hygiene for 50 years, only discontinuing use last year after seeing talc’s link to ovarian cancer in the news. In her videotaped deposition she testified that had Johnson and Johnson put a warning on its product she would have stopped using it.
Echeverria attorney Mark Robinson of Robinson Calcagnie Inc. told Law360 that although his client is dying, she told him she was glad the verdict might push Johnson and Johnson to change its conduct.
“Her statement was that, ‘Mark, I’m doing this for the other women who were not warned and got ovarian cancer and for the women who will get ovarian cancer if they keep using the talcum powder,’” he said.
After two days of deliberations, the jury’s decision was that in light of the evidence presented talc was indeed responsible for Echeverria’s ovarian cancer and they awarded her $70 million in compensatory damages.
The verdict included $347 million in punitive damages holding both Johnson and Johnson liable and its subsidiary and co-defendant Johnson & Johnson Consumer. Robinson speculated to Law360 that it was the evidence the jury saw that Johnson and Johnson had known about the link between ovarian cancer and talc during the decades Echeverria was using its products that led them to award such high punitive damages. He said it was likely, “the jury wanted to make an example of that, and they wanted them to start warning.”
According to Law360, in closing arguments Allen Smith of The Smith Law Firm, representing Echeverria, had told jurors, “They’re not ever going to warn, unless y’all do something about it. While Johnson & Johnson comes in here and plays these legal games, the collateral damage is thousands of women including Ms. Echeverria.”
They did something about it.
The next talc trial is scheduled for October in St. Louis.