The decision by some of its competitors to update their talcum powder products with ovarian cancer warnings may have been a driving factor behind the record-setting $417 million verdict levied against Johnson & Johnson last week in California.
Eva Echeverria, 63, was awarded $70 million in compensatory damages, along with $347 million in punitive damages, after a jury in Los Angeles Superior Court found Johnson & Johnson liable for failing to warn of the possible link between genital talc use and ovarian cancer.
According to her lawsuit, Echeverria began using Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower products for routine feminine hygiene at the age of 11 and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007. Her cancer is now in a terminal stage, making her too ill to be present in court when the jury rendered its verdict on August 21st.
The award was the largest so far in a talcum powder lawsuit filed against Johnson & Johnson. Like previous plaintiffs, Echeverria’s complaint cited numerous studies dating back to the 1970s that pointed to a link between long-term genital talc use and ovarian cancer, as well as internal Johnson & Johnson documents that indicated the company was aware of this potential risk but chose not to include warning labels on its talc products to protect the profits derived from their sales.
Echeverria’s attorneys did present several pieces of new evidence that had not been available to earlier plaintiffs, including proof that the labels for several competitor talcum powder products sold at Walmart and Dollar Tree included ovarian cancer warnings. Per a report from The Recorder, Echeverria’s attorneys had only become aware of those warnings just before her case went to trial.
“That was very much news to us,” one of her lawyers said. “The way it played out in trial, I think it was news to J&J.”
Jurors hearing Echeverria’s case were also presented with evidence showing that two individuals involved in the Cosmetic Industry Review that had declared talcum powder to be safe had a previously undisclosed financial relationship with Johnson & Johnson. Finally, they heard evidence that Dr. Douglas Weed, a Johnson & Johnson epidemiologist, had been sanctioned in a previous trial for lying under oath about notes he kept for an expert report.
“J&J brought these unbelievable and non-credible witnesses on an issue so important like this,” another of Echeverria’s attorneys told The Record. “Couple that with the fact other companies are warning and have been warning for eight to 12 months now. That was new evidence that was very compelling.”
Johnson & Johnson has been named a defendant in more than 5,500 talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuits pending nationwide. In addition to California, litigation’s involving the company’s talc products are underway in Missouri, Delaware, and New Jersey state courts, as well as New Jersey federal court.
The Missouri litigation is the nation’s largest, and has already concluded five talcum powder trials. Four juries have awarded talcum powder plaintiffs damages ranging from $55 million to $110 million, while Johnson & Johnson has prevailed in only one case.
According to The Record, Missouri is scheduled to convene its next talcum powder trial in October. Attorneys involved in that case have already indicated that they will attempt to present the new evidence that came to light during the California trial.