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A California appeals court has ordered a new trial for claims brought by a woman who died from ovarian cancer caused by exposure to Johnson’s Baby Powder, indicating that a $417 million verdict previously retuned by a jury should not have been completely thrown out by a lower court judge, and that a new jury should consider the claim.
The decision was announced by the California Court of Appeals this week, overturning an earlier ruling by Los Angeles Superior County Judge Maren Nelson, who threw out an August 2017 award of $70 million in compensatory damages and $347 million in punitive damages in a lawsuit filed by Eva Echeverria, who died shortly after the original trial concluded.
Echeverria, like thousands of other women nationwide who are pursuing similar lawsuits, claimed she developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products around her genitals.
Following the initial verdict, the trial judge determined that there was not sufficient evidence to prove Johnson & Johnson was liable, and reversed the jury verdict. However, the state appeals court found there was substantial evidence which supported a finding that a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, Janssen, was liable, but determined the parent company could not be held responsible. The appeals court also determined there was not enough evidence to support a punitive damages finding, meaning that the new trial is likely to only address compensatory damages against Janssen.
Talcum Powder Litigation
Johnson & Johnson currently faces thousands of Johnson’s Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits filed on behalf of women and families throughout the United States, each raising similar allegations that the company has withheld information about the link between ovarian cancer and talc contained in their products for years.
Johnson & Johnson has suffered a number of large trial losses when these cases have gone to court, including a $325 million verdict by a New York jury last month.
Last year, a Missouri jury returned a landmark $4.7 billion verdict for 22 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
In addition to ovarian cancer claims, many of the complaints involve allegations that the powder contains asbestos, which can lead to mesothelioma and other ailments.
Most of the talcum powder litigation is current pending in the federal court system, where lawsuits filed by individuals nationwide are centralized for pretrial proceedings as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL), which is centralized before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in the District of New Jersey.
Later this year, Judge Wolfson is expected to rule on Johnson & Johnson’s challenges to the admissibility of certain expert witness testimony under the federal rules. However, if the Court finds that the evidence is sufficiently reliable, Johnson & Johnson could face large numbers of individual trial dates in courts nationwide in coming years.