The award is gigantic, nearly four times bigger than the previous verdict of $110 million. It includes $347 million in punitive damages on top of $70 million to compensate the plaintiff for her harm. Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant for bad actions, and in this case, it appears the jury was incensed that J&J had failed to warn consumers of the cancer risk.
Appellate courts take a much cooler view of punitive damages. On appeal, it will not be surprising if the award is reduced to a sum more in line with previous cases.
The evidence of a link between body powder and cancer is not air-tight. J&J has consistently maintained that studies linking talc to ovarian cancer are based on flawed science, citing numerous regulatory agencies that have declined to require warning labels on talc-containing products. In Eva Echeverria v. Johnson & Johnson, they mounted a vigorous defense and introduced experts and studies to dispute the causal relationship between talcum powder and ovarian cancer.
In many ways, Echeverriawas a contest of dueling experts. A reasonable jury in a following case could easily find J&J’s evidence more compelling, since evidence has no precedential value from one case to the next.
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J&J is a New Jersey corporation. Eva Echeverria had access to California courts only because she lives there. To date, only about 300 plaintiffs are similarly situated. In Missouri, where a handful of talcum powder cases have been tried, the awards have been much smaller, ranging from $110 million to $55 million, and not all cases have been decided in favor of the plaintiff. Jurisdiction can make a big difference in the outcome of a case.
In any legal contest, success depends in part on a realistic appreciation of the other side’s case, and J&J can be depended upon to be a formidable opponent. Post-Echeverria, however, the momentum certainly seems to be with talcum powder plaintiffs.