In August 2017, CMBG3 Law reported that a California jury returned a verdict against Johnson & Johnson in the amount of $417 million, ending the first California case tried to verdict against Johnson & Johnson in which it was alleged that the company’s talcum powder products caused a woman’s ovarian cancer. The jury awarded the plaintiff, Eva Echevarria, $70 million in compensatory damages and $347 million in punitive damages.
On Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Maren Nelson set aside the verdict, finding that the jury relied on speculative expert testimony that failed to show a link between talcum powder and cancer that met the legal standard of “more probable than not.” She also reasoned that plaintiff had failed to show evidence of malice in Johnson & Johnson’s acts; therefore, the punitive damages award was not proper. Judge Nelson granted a motion for a new trial, which plaintiff may use to retry the case in the near future.
Judge Nelson’s decision regarding the expert testimony was based largely on her criticism of plaintiff’s expert witness, Dr. Annie Yessaian. The court felt that Dr. Yessaian relied on “extremely limited” evidence to link talcum powder to ovarian cancer. In addition, she failed to rule out other potential causes for plaintiff’s ovarian cancer, which created questions as to Dr. Yessaian’s methodology. Judge Nelson also overturned the verdict due in part to her conclusion that plaintiff’s counsel failed to adhere to the trial court’s limitation as to mention of Johnson & Johnson’s lobbying efforts and by counsel repeatedly referencing an article that espoused information as fact, even though the information had not been verified as reliable. Receiving this type of information through an expert witness, Judge Nelson concluded, was “plainly excessive” and improperly influenced the jury.
The plaintiffs’ claims against Johnson & Johnson and talc suppliers argue that talc-containing products caused them to develop ovarian cancer. Their attorneys allege that Johnson & Johnson knew its products caused ovarian cancer, but failed to provide warning labels or otherwise discontinue the use of talc in its products. The defendants maintain that studies linking talc to ovarian cancer are based on flawed science, and they note that numerous regulatory agencies have declined to require warning labels on talc-containing products.
The attorneys at CMBG3 Law LLC have represented clients in talc, products liability, and toxic tort matters for many years. We provide the most current advice by staying informed of legal, scientific and medical developments regarding a wide variety of substances and products, including talc-containing products, used by consumers every day. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact John Gardella (email him or 617-936-4353).