Last month, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury found that Johnson & Johnson must pay $417 million to a 63-year-old California resident. The plaintiff claimed she developed ovarian cancer from using products like Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder for feminine hygiene. The verdict was the largest yet in a series of lawsuits claiming that the New Jersey-based company failed to adequately warn customers about the cancer risks present in their talc-based products.
The plaintiff developed terminal ovarian cancer following decades of using Johnson & Johnson talc-based products, specifically, its Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower products. Her lawyers argued the company encourages women to use its products on their genitals, even though it knows studies link genital talc use to ovarian cancer. The plaintiff allegedly began using the products when she was 11. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007.
Her attorneys cited several studies that pointed to a link between long-term genital talc use and ovarian cancer, including a 1982 paper suggesting that women who used talcum powder for routine feminine hygiene faced a 92% increased risk for the disease. They also highlighted internal Johnson & Johnson documents dating back to 1964 to prove that the company was aware of the potential danger.
The plaintiff’s lawyer said the plaintiff and he were grateful for the verdict, which included $347 million in punitive damages and $70 million in compensatory damages. The company is facing 5,500 similar claims across the country. It was recently hit with over $300 million in judgments by juries in Missouri alone, where there have been five jury trials about talc-based products. Johnson & Johnson lost four of those trials, which largely were brought by out-of-state plaintiffs. The cases have raised jurisdictional questions after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in June limiting where personal injury lawsuits can be filed.
In Bristol-Meyers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, the Supreme Court held that California courts lacked specific jurisdiction to entertain claims brought by plaintiffs who were not California residents, since there was an insufficient connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue. The case that reaffirmed the justices’ commitment to the limitations on state-court jurisdiction arrived a few years ago in Daimler AG v. Bauman. The holding means that state courts cannot hear claims against companies that are not based in the state if the claimed injuries did not occur there. Bristol-Meyers Squibb influenced a St. Louis judge to declare a mistrial in a case already underway against Johnson & Johnson, which is based in New Jersey. The plaintiffs can still argue they have jurisdiction because the bottler Johnson & Johnson used to package its products is based in Missouri.
This lawsuit was the first of hundreds of California cases against Johnson & Johnson to go to trial for its talc-based products. Before her recent verdict, the largest verdict against Johnson & Johnson was $110 million.
Johnson & Johnson claims that science supports the safety of its talc-based products. It argued at this trial that federal agencies and scientific studies have not found that talc products necessarily cause cancer. It continues to appeal the verdicts against it.
The plaintiff was not present at the verdict, since her cancer has entered a terminal stage, and she was too ill to appear. “My client’s dying,” her lawyer said. “But she feels good today that maybe women in America and maybe even Johnson & Johnson will get the message.’’
The product liability lawyers at Neumann Law Group represent victims throughout the Los Angeles area. Call us at (213) 227-0001 for a free consultation.
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