With the ink barely dry on last month’s $417 million award to a California woman who developed ovarian cancer after decades of using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder products, many are asking if they should join the litigation, and what this could mean for their case.
Here, DrugNews sorts through the details of that case, what may have led to the monstrous verdict against J&J, and what this may mean for future talc lawsuits.
Ovarian Cancer After Decades of Talc Use
63 year-old Eva Echeverria used J&J’s talcum-containing Baby Powder products from age 11 until last year. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007, but didn’t discover until 2016 that her disease could be linked to decades of talc exposure.
More than 20 studies in recent times have explored the link between talc and cancer, with about half concluding that there is, in fact, a connection. Regardless, Johnson & Johnson has refused to give any warning to consumers, instead continuing to earn billions selling their products.
On August 21, a California court ordered J&J to pay $417 million to Ms. Echeverria, of which a whopping $347 million was for punitive damages. While not the first such verdict for a talc powder ovarian cancer victim, this was certainly the largest.
What Led to Such a Large Talc Verdict?
Johnson & Johnson had already lost five talcum powder cancer lawsuits for a combined $300 million prior to the Echeverria decision, but experts point to three factors that led to the jury sending a powerful message in this case.
First, just prior to the start of this trial, it was discovered that J&J’s Baby Powder’s competitors had added warnings of cancer risks to their talc products within the past year. Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, refuses to address any cancer risk in their products despite mounting evidence.
Second, lawyers discovered that two members of the Cosmetic Industry Review board, who had claimed J&J’s products were safe, had in fact received payments from the company for speeches and other consulting work.
Finally, lawyers for Ms. Echeverria were able to show that one of Johnson & Johnson’s main expert witnesses, epidemiologist Dr. Douglas Weed, had been found guilty of perjury in a previous trial.
Will J&J Pay The Full $417 Million Verdict?
First, it’s important to note that Johnson & Johnson will assuredly appeal this decision, as they have stated in press releases.
This is standard with such large awards, as it gives the company time to search for additional defenses, stretch out litigation to pressure victims to settle, and gives the wrongdoer more time to pay.
There’s also a strong precedent for appealate courts reducing such large punitive damage awards, like when the historic $9 billion Actos blabber cancer award was reduced to $37 million in 2014.
All in all, it’s unlikely that J&J will end up paying the entire $417 million verdict in this case.
Is your case worth $417 million?
Believe it or not, historic verdicts like this can be a lawyer’s worst nightmare when there are over 5,000 victims with pending lawsuits. After all, they set unrealistic goals for other cases, and there’s no possible way J&J could or would pay such a large amount to each victim.
The true value of any case is the total amount of damages, which may be adjusted up or down based on the likelihood that a jury will award extra punitive damages or the chance that the case will fail and return nothing.
However, in terms of settlement values, cases are examined on the roughly 50% chance that they could succeed or fail, plus the discount of the company paying all the damages at once.
Most importantly, case values are determined by a company’s ability to pay. Even with a reported $40 billion in cash reserves, Johnson & Johnson would never be able to afford the roughly $2 trillion it would take to pay every victim $417 million.
Since it would take decades for the courts to sort through all the pending cases, and half of them would fail, the realistic value is more likely to range from six figures to well into the millions, depending on damages.
Will this force Johnson & Johnson to Settle Talcum Powder Lawsuits?
So far, J&J has strongly refused to take responsibility for the cancer associated with their products, has vowed to continue fighting every case, and has dismissed any talk of settlement.
However, massive verdicts such as this could definitely change that.
Since the company could continue to lose large sums of money and public perception fighting these cases, there’s a strong likelihood they will eventually agree to a settlement.
So far, J&J has lost 5 out of 10 talc lawsuits for a total of $717 million. That’s a 50% failure rate, or an average of $71 million per case. Even though it could take decades to work through all the outstanding cases, the damages could theoretically bankrupt the company.
Instead, a prudent board of directors could choose to set aside several billion dollars to compensate victims, putting an end to the risk of trials and fading public perception.
How Long Will My Talc Powder Case Take?
In general, it can take 6 months to a year to investigate your case, gather records and prepare for trial. Fortunately, since ten cases have gone to trial, much of the evidence against J&J has already been uncovered.
Then, you must wait for an available trial date or for the parties to negotiate a settlement. With 5,000 outstanding cases, however, lawyers and judges must decide whether to work through them one by one, which could take decades, or reach a settlement.
Again, there is no guarantee J&J will ever agree to a settlement. However, lawyers are hopeful that these cases could move towards resolution within the next few years.
For now, it is important to learn about your legal rights if you or a loved one has developed ovarian cancer after using a Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder or Shower to Shower product. The time to file a claim could be limited.
Contact DrugNews today for more information on the talc litigation, or to speak directly with a lawyer at no cost.
Palmer, E. Johnson & Johnson hit with $417M verdict as talcum powder liability losses mount. FiercePharma. (August 22, 2017). Retrieved from www.fiercepharma.com
York, M. New Evidence of Johnson & Johnson Bad Conduct Moved LA Jury to Award $417 Million Talc Verdict. Mass Tort Nexus. (August 25, 2017). Retrieved from www.masstortnexus.com
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