OCT 23, 2017 3:06 PM PDT

Court Overturns $417M Talc Cancer Verdict

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Image credit:  Lucas Jackson / Reuters

The record verdicts to award millions of dollars in damages associated with Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder has been overturned. Courts have instead ruled on the side of Johnson & Johnson, dealing harsh blows to two women who had previously been awarded $417 million and $72 million, separately.

In the first case, judges overturned a ruling in August that awarded $70 million in compensatory damages and another $347 million in punitive damages to 63-year-old Eva Echeverria. A long-time user of Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder for feminine hygiene purposes, Echeverria developed ovarian cancer, a disease which she believed to be caused by the powder product. In court, her lawyers alleged that Johnson & Johnson had known about such cancer link for some time, but had failed to adequately warn consumers of the product’s risks.

“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 Mark Robinson, Echeverria’s attorney. “She really didn’t want sympathy. She just wanted to get a message out to help these other women.”

"Johnson & Johnson had many warning bells over a 30 year period but failed to warn the women who were buying its product," said Robinson.

But the Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Maren Nelson, who presided over Johnson & Johnson’s appeal, found an “insufficiency of the evidence as to the causation as to both defendants." In addition, the judge also found trial errors and jury misconduct, which contributed to inflation of the compensation amount.

In response to the verdict reversal, Robinson said, "We disagree with the court's decision. A jury of Ms. Echeverria's peers found the Johnson and Johnson defendants liable. We will ask the appellate court to uphold this jury's verdict. We will continue to fight on behalf of all women who have been impacted by this dangerous product."

In the second case, a Missouri appellate court overturned a $72 million payout to Jacqueline Fox, another woman who also sued the pharmaceutical giant for cancer related to talcum powder use. The court’s decision to reverse the verdict was grounded on the notion that Fox’s claims did not "arise out of J&J's activities in Missouri." In other words, the case shouldn’t have been tried in Missouri.

"We are pleased with Judge Maren Nelson's ruling. Ovarian cancer is a devastating disease -- but it is not caused by the cosmetic-grade talc we have used in Johnson's Baby Powder for decades," said Carol Goodrich, a spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson Consumer. "The science is clear and we will continue to defend the safety of Johnson's Baby Powder as we prepare for additional trials in the U.S."

Additional sources: CNN

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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