A Los Angeles jury ruled in favor of a woman who claims Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder caused her to develop ovarian cancer and ordered the company to pay $417 million to her.
Eva Echeverria said she used Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based products such as the Baby Powder for feminine hygiene. Echeverria was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and the lawsuit says the J&J was responsible for her affliction.
The lawsuit also said Johnson & Johnson failed to warn consumers about the potential cancer risks of its talc-based products. The company said it would appeal the decision.
Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in punitive and compensatory damages
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury’s verdict included $70 million in compensatory damages, as well as $347 million in punitive damages, according to a spokeswoman for Echeverria’s lawyers. Johnson & Johnson issued a statement following the decision, stating the company will appeal.
“We will appeal today’s verdict because we are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder,” said the statement, according to Reuters.
At the trial, Echeverria’s lawyers said Johnson & Johnson had encouraged women to use its talc products despite knowing of years of studies that have linked ovarian cancer diagnoses and deaths to genital talc use.
This was the sixth completed trial against the company claiming the talcum powder in Johnson & Johnson’s popular bath products causes ovarian cancer and that the New Jersey-based company has failed to warn consumers about the risks. Johnson & Johnson’s attorneys argued that several scientific studies and federal agencies including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have not found that talc-based products are carcinogenic.
Mark Robinson, Echeverria’s attorney, said his client expected the verdict would lead Johnson & Johnson to include additional warnings on its talcum products.
“Mrs. Echeverria is dying from this ovarian cancer and she said to me all she wanted to do was to help the other women throughout the whole country who have ovarian cancer for using Johnson & Johnson for 20 and 30 years,” said Robinson, according to Chicago Tribune. “She really didn’t want sympathy. She just wanted to get a message out to help these other women.”
Johnson & Johnson is appealing four other similar cases
The company won a similar trial in March but lost another four, causing J&J to award over $300 million in compensatory damages. One of those cases included a Virginia women who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012, who claims she used J&J talcum powder for more than 40 years. She won the lawsuit, and a St. Louis, Missouri jury in May awarded her $110.5 million.
The three remaining cases reached similar outcomes last year, as judges awarded the women with $72 million, $70.1 million and $55 million, for a combined total of $307.6 million. However, the four cases are now on appeal.
The Monday J&J statement also said the company sympathizes with those affected by ovarian cancer, but that science supports the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder. The company said talc, one of the ingredients in powder, is safe to use in cosmetic products and that J&J’s baby powder is labeled appropriately.
American Cancer Society: Studies linking ovarian cancer with talc are ‘mixed’
Johnson & Johnson also pointed to an April finding by a National Cancer Institute board that found “the weight of evidence does not support an association between perineal talc exposure and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.”
The four-week trial involved all sorts of experts on the matter, including pathologists, oncologists, and other specialists called in by both Echeverria and Johnson & Johnson. At one point, Echeverria’s lawyers stressed that the jury didn’t need to prove the talc was the only cause of Echeverria’s cancer, only that it was a “substantial factor.”
The American Cancer Society says research linking women’s use of talc-based products in the genital area to ovarian cancer has been “mixed,” as some studies have reported a slightly increased risk, while others have found no increased risk at all.
One of Echeverria’s expert showed that talc causes inflammation in human tissues and highlighted that chronic inflammation could cause ovarian cancer. Another expert said 11 talc particles were found in Echeverria’s tissue. Her own treating gynecologic oncologist testified and said she believed talc was likely the cause of Echeverria’s ovarian cancer.
Echeverria, a 63-year-old California-based, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007. She testified she had used J&J’s baby powder for more than 40 years and stressed she would have stopped using it if there had been a warning label.
Johnson & Johnson recently said in a securities filing that as of July 2 it faced about 4,800 pending claims in U.S. courts over its talc-based products.