On August 21, 2017, Johnson & Johnson was hit with the largest talcum powder jury verdict to date – $417 million. The case was tried in the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County, and the verdict is comprised of $70 million in compensatory damages and $347 million in punitive damages. Plaintiff Eva Echeverria sued Johnson & Johnson, alleging she developed ovarian cancer after using talc-based products, including Baby Powder, for hygiene. Her attorneys argued to the jury that Johnson & Johnson engaged in a practice of encouraging women to use its talc-based products even though they had known for years about studies linking ovarian cancer to use of talc products in the genital region.
In recent years, thousands of women across the country have filed suit against Johnson & Johnson based on scientific links between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. The lawsuits claim that the company knew of dangers but concealed them from innocent consumers. Of those lawsuits, at least five have proceeded to trial in Missouri, with Johnson & Johnson losing all but one. In those cases, the juries awarded over $300 million collectively in the four trials in which the plaintiff was successful. Johnson & Johnson has vigorously disputed liability and claims it will appeal the California verdict discussed above.
When finding for the plaintiff, juries are sending a strong message to Johnson & Johnson and other product manufacturers by awarding punitive damages. This is a special class of damages designed to punish a defendant and deter others from engaging in similar practices in the future. While each state will have its own standards as to when punitive damages may apply, they are commonly awarded when a defendant maliciously, fraudulently, intentionally, or knowingly causes harm to an innocent consumer.