On October 27, 2016, a St. Louis, Missouri jury awarded over $70 million in damages to a California woman who developed ovarian cancer after using a Johnson & Johnson product that contained talcum powder. The plaintiff, a 62-year-old woman, used Johnson & Johnson baby powder for over 40 years. In 2012, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Recent studies have linked talcum powder to ovarian cancer. While the plaintiff has undergone surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy in efforts to recover, the plaintiff’s doctors believe her odds of surviving the next two years are just 20%.
In this case, the jury assessed damages against two defendants, Johnson & Johnson and Imerys Talc America, the company that supplied the talc to Johnson & Johnson. Of the total damages awarded, $2.5 million is for the plaintiff’s medical bills and pain and suffering. This amount will be split between the two defendants. The remainder of the verdict is for punitive damages, with $65 million to be paid by Johnson & Johnson and $2.5 million by Imerys.
Punitive damages are a special class of damages, and they are different from compensatory damages. Compensatory damages, such as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering, are designed to make the plaintiff whole from injuries sustained as a result of another’s negligence. On the other hand, punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for their conduct and can be awarded when a defendant exhibits egregious conduct. By assessing punitive damages, the goal is to put others on notice that a defendant’s conduct is not acceptable and to deter others from committing similar misconduct in the future.
For example, in Tennessee, punitive damages may be awarded if a defendant acted “maliciously, intentionally, fraudulently or recklessly.” Many factors are to be considered before punitive damages are to be awarded. These include:
- Financial net worth of the defendant,
- Nature of the defendant’s conduct,
- How the defendant’s conduct affected the plaintiff,
- Whether the defendant was aware of the harm caused to the plaintiff,
- Duration of the defendant’s conduct, and
- Whether the defendant tried to hide or cover up their reprehensible conduct.
Tennessee law provides that both manufacturers and sellers of a product may be susceptible to an award of punitive damages, depending on their conduct.
Approximately 2,000 women have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson alleging their feminine hygiene products, such as Shower to Shower, baby powder, and certain perfumed powders, caused ovarian cancer. These cases are pending in state and federal courts across the United States. The $70 million verdict is the third large jury verdict assessed against Johnson & Johnson in 2016 for talcum powder claims. In February 2016, a jury awarded $72 million in a case where an Alabama woman passed away from ovarian cancer due to talcum powder. In May 2016, a jury awarded $55 million to a South Dakota woman who developed ovarian cancer.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a defective product, call Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz today. In complex product liability cases, Team NST has the resources to go up against the big insurance companies and product manufacturers to help victims recover damages to which they are legally entitled. Call us toll-free at 1-800-LAW-4004 to schedule a free consultation with one of our Tennessee product liability lawyers.