Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

J&J Wins Reversal of $417 Million California Talc Verdict

Updated on
  • Judge agrees parent company had no duty to warn consumers
  • Ruling gives company momentum while facing thousands of suits

Johnson & Johnson got a $417 million jury verdict thrown out after a California judge agreed the company didn’t have a duty to warn a woman who has since died that its Baby Powder could cause ovarian cancer.

The ruling Friday erased the fourth-largest U.S. jury award of the year. It follows a Missouri appeals court’s ruling earlier in the week voiding a $72 million talc-powder verdict and adds momentum to J&J’s defense against thousands of similar lawsuits. The world’s largest health-care company denies there’s an increased cancer risk from using its talc products for female hygiene and points out that no government health authority has found otherwise.

A Los Angeles jury found the company liable two months ago for failure to warn a decades-long user of talc products and awarded the woman, who died after the trial ended, $70 million in compensatory damages and $347 million in punitive damages. The jury held the parent company responsible for $408 million of the total verdict with the balance going against the J&J consumer unit that has been making and selling Baby Powder and Shower to Shower since 1967.

California Superior Court Judge Maren Nelson agreed with J&J that under the law the parent company, which is a legally separate entity from the subsidiary, can’t be held liable for failure to warn if it isn’t the one manufacturing and marketing the product. The first study making a connection between talc powder and cancer dates from 1982, years after the J&J parent company stopped making Baby Powder itself.

The judge also found there was no convincing evidence that either J&J or its consumer products subsidiary acted with malice and should have to pay punitive damages.

Mark Robinson, a lawyer for plaintiff Eva Echeverria, vowed an immediate appeal.

“We disagree with the court’s decision,” he said in an email. “A jury of Ms. Echeverria’s peers found the Johnson & Johnson defendants liable. We will ask the appellate court to uphold this jury’s verdict. We will continue to fight on behalf of all women who have been impacted by this dangerous product.”

J&J Wins Reversal of First St. Louis Talc-Cancer Verdict

The case was the first California trial over allegations J&J ignored studies linking talc powder with an increased risk of ovarian cancer. There are more than 300 similar cases pending against the company in the state.

A J&J spokeswoman said the company is pleased with Friday’s ruling.

“The science is clear and we will continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder as we prepare for additional trials in the U.S.,” Carol Goodrich said in an email.

In addition to throwing out all damages against the parent company, the judge voided the compensatory and punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc., finding that the scientific evidence offered by the plaintiffs was in part speculative.

"The best that can be said is that there was, and is, an ongoing debate in the scientific and medical community about whether talc more probably than not causes ovarian cancer and thus giving rise to a duty to warn," Nelson said. "Clear and convincing evidence of malice is lacking."

In June, a Missouri judge halted a trial in St. Louis at J&J’s request following a U.S. Supreme Court decision limiting out-of-state plaintiffs joining lawsuits in state court. Up to then, J&J had been hit with verdicts as high as $110 million by Missouri juries. The New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company is appealing those verdicts.

The case is Lloyd v. Johnson & Johnson, BC628228, California Superior Court, Los Angeles County (Los Angeles).

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