A California court ordered Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to pay $417 Million to a woman who alleged her ovarian cancer was caused by decades of talcum powder use. The award includes $70 Million in compensatory damages and $347 Million in punitive damages, or damages designated specifically for punishment.
This verdict well exceeds the awards in 4 previous talcum powder cases, in which the biggest judgment was $110 Million. That verdict, issued earlier this year, suggests that juries find J&J’s suppression of information regarding ovarian cancer and talc to be increasingly inexcusable.
The Verdict Is In: Consumers Must Be Informed of Potential Hazards
The plaintiff in this case was a 62-year-old Los Angeles woman, who had used talcum powder for nearly 5 decades beginning when she was 11. Her cancer diagnosis occurred in 2007. While J&J argued that current studies were not sufficient to support the idea that talcum powder causes cancer, much research suggests otherwise.
In fact, past talc cases have accused J&J of hiding this evidence for decades in order to increase sales, blatantly disregarding all risks to consumers.
When used in the genital area, talc may travel through the vagina and uterus to the fallopian tubes and ovaries, where it can cause inflammation that may lead to ovarian cancer. One compelling piece of evidence for this conclusion is that talcum powder has been found in ovarian cancer tumors. The research has been convincing enough for many gynecologists to discourage their patients from using talc products altogether.
Juries have been convinced along with the professionals, with verdicts supported by evidence gathered over the past few decades. In siding with consumers, courts agree that Johnson & Johnson has a duty to warn about possible harm caused by talc.
The latest verdict is far from the last that Johnson & Johnson will face in the coming months and years. Currently the health and personal care products company has 5,500 cases filed against it in United States courts. The 5 previous talcum powder cases have all been heard in Missouri, with the jury finding in favor of J&J in only 1 of those trials. The 4 awards made to date total over $300 Million.
Continuing the Fight for Consumer Rights
Johnson & Johnson has announced they will appeal the California verdict, just as they are currently appealing the previous verdicts in Missouri. Prior to the most-recent $417 Million award, a June talc case was declared a mistrial, after the U.S. Supreme Court announced a ruling that made it more challenging for plaintiffs living outside a state to be part of a lawsuit in that state, where juries and judges may be more sympathetic to their case.
Yet given the weight and abundance of scientific evidence supporting the dangers of talc, there is a clear trend for juries to side with plaintiffs when their right to product information has been violated. These verdicts send a message that companies cannot suppress evidence of possible harm caused by their products, and favoring profits over consumer safety will continue to result in stiff legal penalties.