Jury awards woman $417 million in latest case tying ovarian cancer to baby powder
This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (August 22, 2017).
LOS ANGELES -- A jury on Monday awarded a woman with ovarian cancer $417 million in a case against Johnson & Johnson, the latest hit to the pharmaceutical company in widespread litigation over the alleged harms of its baby powder.
The verdict here comes in the sixth completed trial alleging the talcum powder in J&J's popular bath product causes ovarian cancer, and that the company failed to warn about the risks. The company won a trial in March but lost four others, leading to jury awards totaling more than $300 million that are now on appeal.
A J&J spokeswoman said Monday that the company plans to appeal the latest verdict. Individual jury awards in mass tort litigation are idiosyncratic and are often reduced on appeal. At the same time, the outcome of early trials can give plaintiffs and defendants a better sense of how to value any eventual global settlement.
J&J said in a recent securities filing that as of July 2 it faced 4,800 pending claims in U.S. courts over its talc products.
J&J has repeatedly said talc is safe to use as an ingredient in cosmetic products and that its baby powder is labeled appropriately. The company spokeswoman said Monday that while they sympathize with those affected by ovarian cancer, "we are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson's Baby Powder." She pointed to an April finding by a National Cancer Institute board that "the weight of evidence does not support an association between perineal talc exposure and an increased risk of ovarian cancer."
J&J has latched on to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June limiting where cases can be filed in an effort by the company to shed other pending talc cases. A judge declared a mistrial in one such case in St. Louis days after the Supreme Court ruling, and J&J has asked for other verdicts and pending cases to be thrown out.
That ruling didn't come into play in the California state court trial, the first to take place outside of St. Louis. The plaintiff, Eva Echeverria, is a 63-year old Californian who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007. Jurors heard from Ms. Echeverria via video that she had used talc for feminine hygiene for more than 40 years and would have stopped using it had there been a warning label.
Mark Robinson, an attorney for Ms. Echeverria, said Monday, "These cases are about fighting for justice for women all over California who are suffering from ovarian cancer because of Johnson & Johnson's covering up the truth for so many years."
During closing arguments, a different attorney for Ms. Echeverria stressed that the jury didn't need to prove that talc was the sole cause of his client's cancer, only that it was a "substantial factor," according to video of the proceedings provided by Courtroom View Network.
The four-week trial hinged largely on a battle of the experts, with pathologists, oncologists and other specialists called in by both sides.
The American Cancer Society has said research linking women's use of talcum powder in the genital area to ovarian cancer has been "mixed, with some studies reporting a slight increased risk and some reporting no increase."
One plaintiffs' expert showed that talc causes inflammation in human tissues, and that chronic inflammation can cause ovarian cancer. Another found 11 talc particles on Ms. Echeverria's tissue. Ms. Echeverria's own treating gynecologic oncologist testified that she believed talc was more likely than not the cause of her patient's cancer.
J&J tried to discredit the opposing side's witnesses by pointing out that the experts only began linking talc to ovarian cancer after they were hired to assist in the litigation.
Bart Williams, an attorney for J&J, explained to jurors during closing arguments that finding talc possibly causes the disease isn't the same as deciding that it probably does, which is the stricter standard required under California law for when a product needs a warning label. "It's about establishing causation," he said.
Lawyers took out 16,000 advertisements warning viewers of the potential risks of talcum powder in the first half of the year, according to an X Ante analysis of Kantar Media CMAG data. That makes it the fifth most-popular target of mass-tort TV ads focused on drugs and medical devices, X Ante said.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 22, 2017 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)