LOS ANGELES, CA–On August 21, a 63-year-old woman with terminal ovarian cancer won her lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson (J&J) over claims its talc-based bath products caused her disease.
Eva Echeverria, like many other women currently suing J&J, used common personal hygiene products that contained talc like Johnson’s baby powder and Shower to Shower.
Echeverria was diagnosed with cancer in 2007. Now, a decade later, a jury awarded her $70 million in compensatory damages and $347 million in punitive damages.
The pharma giant disclosed in a regulatory filing that by early July it “faced 4,800 pending claims in US courts over its talc products,” wrote the Wall Street Journal.
The company has won just one out of six completed trials over alleged health damages caused by talc so far. It prevailed in March in a Missouri state court, the same one where the other five trials took place.
Prior to Echeverria's case, which was tried in her home state of California, the largest jury award was $110 million. And hundreds of more talc cases are pending in the Golden State.
"We will appeal today's verdict because we are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson's Baby Powder," said J&J, which has been based in New Brunswick for well over a century.
"Individual jury awards in mass tort litigation are idiosyncratic and are often reduced on appeal," reads the WSJ report. "The four-week trial hinged largely on a battle of the experts, with pathologists, oncologists and other specialists called in by both sides."
Echeverria used talc-based J&J products for more than half her life, according to reports, and her lawsuit alleged that J&J did not adequately warn of the cancer risks associated with its products.
Echeverria's "lawyers argued J&J encouraged women to use its products despite knowing of studies linking ovarian cancer to genital talc use,” reported Reuters News.
But the company's lawyers said "studies and federal agencies have not found that talc products are carcinogenic," according to Reuters.
The Missouri cases were brought mostly by out-of-state plaintiffs, leading to questions about jurisdiction, according to the report.
An unrelated case involving Bristol-Myers Squibb led the U.S. Supreme Court to declare state courts cannot hear claims against firms that are not headquartered in the state so long as the claimed injuries did not take place there.
"The judge has nonetheless left the door open for the plaintiffs to argue they still have jurisdiction based on a Missouri-based bottler J&J used to package its products," reported Reuters.
The Wall Street Journal wrote that J&J "has latched on" to the June Supreme Court ruling "to try to shed other pending talc cases," adding that a St. Louis judge declared a mistrial following the ruling.
The corporation has reportedly requested that previous verdicts as well as pending cases be thrown out completely.
But the ruling on jurisdiction does not affect the Echeverria verdict because the case was not venued in St. Louis.
A report in the New Jersey Law Journal (NJLJ) says that the $417 million verdict against J&J was “a bitter pill” for in-house attorney Michael Ullman and his legal team “to swallow.”
General counsel Ullman, “will now have to help his company fend off 4,800 similar suits from emboldened plaintiffs across the country,” noting the attorney has been with J&J since 1989.
The report indicates that the number of cases is likely to increase rapidly as a result of the “massive verdict” in Los Angeles Superior Court.
After losing three consecutive talc cases in Missouri, J&J changed outside legal teams, states the report, J&J then won its fourth case in March, but utilized a new team of defense lawyers.
On deck, however, is another Missouri talc trail, set to start in October.