Women Harmed by Johnson & Johnson Products Face Hurdles in Court

November 2, 2017

On October 20, 2017, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Maren Nelson granted Johnson & Johnson’s request for a new trial, reversing the August 21, 2017 jury verdict which awarded Eva Echeverria over $417 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Echeverria brought suit against Johnson & Johnson after she developed ovarian cancer in 2007, following continued and frequent use of talc based Baby Powder between 2005 and 2016. In her suit, Echeverria alleged that Johnson & Johnson failed to adequately warn consumers about talcum powder’s potential cancer risks, arguing that Johnson & Johnson “knew or should have known that the use of talcum powder based products in the perineal area significantly increases the risk of ovarian cancer based upon scientific knowledge dating back to the 1960s.” You can see the 2016 complaint here .

Judge Nelson stated in her order that the August trial was replete with errors, and noted there was insufficient evidence from both sides. In particular, she found a lack of convincing evidence that Johnson & Johnson had acted with malice, and this combined with the insufficient evidence had lead to excessive damages. She also stated that there was juror misconduct, where the three jurors who voted against liability for Johnson & Johnson were excluded from assisting in the determination of damages.

Although Eva Echeverria has passed away, her attorney stated that the decision will be appealed. You can see the docket here.

This is not the first blow for Plaintiffs allegedly injured by the talc-based Johnson & Johnson products. On October 17, 2017, Judge Lisa Van Amburg of the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District reversed the $72 million jury verdict reached in February, 2016, in favor of the estate of Jacqueline Fox. Fox developed ovarian cancer and passed away on October 6, 2015, following prolonged use of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder. Judge Van Amburg reasoned that the estate of Jacqueline Fox lacked jurisdiction in Missouri, and reversed the trial court’s decision, vacating the award.

Jurisdiction over personal injury claims has become a much larger issue in the past several months, following the June 2017 decision of the Supreme Court in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California. In this case, the Supreme Court held that  state courts would be unable to hear claims against companies that are not based in the state if the injuries also did not take place there.

Another case against Johnson & Johnson, Swann v. Johnson & Johnson, was set to start on October 16, 2017. The Missouri Supreme Court issued a temporary stay just days before, on October 13, 2017, holding that the circuit court has until November 13, 2017, to show that it has jurisdiction to hear the case.

Over the past several years, nearly five thousand cases have been brought against Johnson & Johnson, accusing the company of using talcum powder despite knowing of its alleged ties to cancer. The verdicts against Johnson & Johnson have reached several hundred million dollars thus far.

The causal link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer remains unclear, despite dozens of studies on the causation. While the American Cancer Society gives extensive information regarding tests and studies that have been conducted, it only suggests limiting or avoiding it if you are concerned, but does not take a strong position either way.  Additionally, the CDC has not listed talcum powder as an ovarian cancer risk.

Image Source: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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