A California jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million to a woman who said she developed ovarian cancer after using the company’s talc-based products like Baby Powder as a part of her feminine hygiene routine for more than five decades.
The verdict, which came down on August 21 after the Los Angeles Superior Court’s jury deliberated for two days following a four-week trial, is the largest yet against Johnson & Johnson over its talc-based products. The verdict includes $70 million in compensatory damages and $347 million in punitive damages.
California resident Eva Echeverria alleged that the company failed to warn consumers about the cancer risks associated with talcum powder. The 63-year-old said she used talcum powder for feminine hygiene since she was 11 and stopped using it in 2016 only after reading a news story about a woman who blamed the product for her ovarian cancer.
Echeverria was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007 and claims that Johnson & Johnson knew about the risks but hid them from the public.
“We are grateful for the jury’s verdict on this matter and that Eva Echeverria was able to have her day in court,” her attorney, Mark Robinson of Robinson Calcagnie, said in a statement. “These cases are about fighting for justice for women all over California who are suffering from ovarian cancer because of Johnson & Johnson’s covering up the truth for so many years.”
Echeverria is currently hospitalized while undergoing cancer treatment. She told Robinson that she hoped the verdict would spur Johnson & Johnson to add warnings to the 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,” Robinson said to the Associated Press.
“She really didn’t want sympathy,” he added. “She just wanted to get a message out to help these other women.”
During trial, Echeverria recorded a deposition played for the jury in which she testified that had there been a warning on the product about the risk of cancer, she would have stopped using the talcum powder.
Evidence in the case included internal documents from Johnson & Johnson that showed it may known about the cancer risks for decades but continued to sell the products without warning consumers.
J&J Vows to Fight the Talc Verdict
The verdict represents a huge loss for Johnson & Johnson, but a spokeswoman for the pharmaceutical company said it was planning on appealing the verdict.
“Ovarian cancer is a devastating diagnosis and we deeply sympathize with the women and families impacted by this disease,” spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said in a statement. “We will appeal today’s verdict because we are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder.”
The studies over the years have produced conflicting results. According to Johnson & Johnson, the National Cancer Institute’s Physician Data Query Editorial Board wrote in April, “The weight of evidence does not support an association between perineal talc exposure and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, currently classifies talc-based powders as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
During the trial, an expert testified on behalf of Johnson & Johnson that the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer was weak. He pushed back against Echeverria’s medical experts who said studies showed a solid link. One of the experts for the plaintiff pointed to a 2013 study as one of the most convincing pieces of evidence linking the two.
Verdict Represents Biggest Loss in J&J Talc Cases
This wasn’t the first loss Johnson & Johnson suffered related to its Baby Powder products.
Five trials have already taken place in Missouri state court where many out-of-state plaintiffs have filed lawsuits. In the most recent verdict in May, a jury in Missouri awarded $110.5 million to a woman who claimed using the company’s talc products for more than 40 years caused her to develop ovarian cancer.
The company has lost four trials in the state court for a total of $307 million in verdicts.
However, the cases in Missouri have faced questions of jurisdiction after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that patients are limited to where they can file lawsuits based on their locations. As a result, a judge in the state declared a mistrial in a Johnson & Johnson talc case that was already underway, according to Reuters.
The verdict in California against Johnson & Johnson may prompt more people to file in the state.
Thousands of lawsuits against the pharmaceutical company are still currently pending around the country in state and federal courts. A spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson said it is preparing to defend itself and its talc-based products in upcoming trials.