California Jurors Award $417 Million in the Sixth Talcum Powder Trial

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On Aug. 21st, 2017, a California jury found that J&J was negligent and also found that they “willfully and consciously disregarded the rights and safety of others”. The jury then awarded Plaintiff Eva Echeverria $70 million dollars in compensatory damages and $347 million in punitive damages for a total verdict of $417 million.

There have been five prior trials over the question of whether talcum powder in J&J personal care products causes ovarian cancer.  Now after the sixth trial, plaintiffs have won five out of six trials with verdicts totaling a staggering $724 million dollars (although some verdicts have been reduced).

Plaintiff Eva Echeverria was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007 after years of using Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products. Echeverria’s case is the first to be tried in the complex litigation consolidating California claims against J&J (most of the prior cases have been tried in St. Louis). Echeverria and six other women alleged that J&J failed to warn consumers of the dangers associated with talc despite decades of knowledge linking talc to ovarian cancer.  

The Trial

In the weeks leading up to trial Imerys Talc America Inc. won summary judgement on the claims against it and J&J was able exclude several areas of expert testimony. During trial the defense claimed that the statistical association between talcum powder and ovarian cancer was weak citing the difference between statistical correlation and a causal relationship between two factors.

Plaintiff’s counsel continued to emphasize internal J&J documents acknowledging safe alternatives to talc and letters from J&J lobbyists warning of studies showing a link between genital talc use and ovarian cancer. During closing arguments Plaintiff’s counsel did not ask for a dollar amount in punitive damages, but invited the jury to think about what amount of money it would take to cause financial damage to a company with a net worth of $1.5 billion. The Plaintiff’s evidence and arguments were obviously more successful.

The Talcum Powder Trials: A Look at Previous Verdicts

November 2013: No damages awarded

In a 2013 talcum powder trial, J&J offered plaintiff Deane Berg of South Dakota an out-of-court settlement of $1.3 million for her signature on a confidentiality agreement that would prevent her from discussing her case. She refused and went to court. The jury found J&J liable, but declined to award damages. In an interview with the New York Post, Berg stated, “it was never about the money.” Her heroic actions alerted the legal community to this danger.

February 2016: $72 million

In February 2016, a St. Louis jury returned a verdict of $72 million – including $62 million in punitive damages – to the family of Jackie Fox. Fox passed away from ovarian cancer at the age of 62 after using J&J’s talc-based products for genital dusting on a daily basis for much of her life.

May 2016: $55 million

In May 2016, another St. Louis jury returned a verdict of $55 million – including $50 million in punitive damages – to Gloria Ristesund. The case was a defense pick. During the trial a J&J marketing tool was shown to jurors. The tool resembled a monopoly game board and was used to sell J&J talc-based products to loyal consumers.

October 2016: $70 million

In October 2016, a St. Louis jury returned a verdict of $70 million – with $65 million in punitive damages – to Deborah Giannecchini. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013 after using J&J’s talcum powder for genital dusting since 1967. The 62 year old woman resides in Modesto, California and had been suffering from stage four ovarian cancer at the time of the trial.

March 2017: Defense verdict

In March 2017, a St. Louis jury sided with J&J in a lawsuit brought by Plaintiff Nora Daniels. In 2013 Daniels was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her diagnosis came after three decades of using Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J’s) baby powder for genital dusting. After seven hours of deliberation, the jury found that there was an insufficient link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. The case was a defense pick.

May 2017: $110 million

In May 2017, Plaintiff Lois Slemp was awarded $105 million in punitive damages and $5.4 million in compensatory damages by another St. Louis jury. Slemp’s case was also a defense pick. The court had granted Slemp’s motion to advance to ensure she had her day in court. Chemotherapy had weakened the lining of the plaintiff’s heart so severely that she suffered a heart attack in early December. The heart attack rendered her incapable of undergoing surgery for a resection of the liver metastasis, leaving her no choice but to undergo additional chemotherapy and risk another heart attack.

What is the future of this litigation?

The big question is when will J&J finally come to the negotiating table? Currently there are hundreds of cases pending in the City of St. Louis. It is likely that more trials will be scheduled there in the near future. There are additional trials that will be scheduled in California. There is a MDL in New Jersey that is likely to begin trials in about a year. 

GoldenbergLaw has been involved in the talc/ovarian cancer litigation since after the first trial. We have more than 160 cases screened and filed – most in St. Louis. We continue to work on many others. These women and their families deserve justice and want this product off the market. We will continue to prepare cases for trial and hope that some common sense prevails over at J&J.