As we reported earlier this week, the trial of Lois Stemp was ongoing against Johnson & Johnson – a case in which Ms. Stemp alleged that Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products caused her ovarian cancer. Yesterday, the jury returned its verdict and found in favor of Ms. Stemp, awarding her $110 million in damages. $105 million of the damages were punitive damages awarded by the jury, which one juror reported was calculated by using a formula that started in 2006, the first year that the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified talc as a possible carcinogen.
Plaintiff’s attorneys claimed that Johnson & Johnson knew that its talc products caused ovarian cancer, but failed to provide warning labels or otherwise discontinue the use of talc in its products. Johnson & Johnson denied that it had any such knowledge and argued to the jury that as late as 2014, the Food and Drug Administration was asked whether a warning label should be put on baby powder; however, the FDA concluded that the existing science did not warrant a warning label on the talc product. Plaintiff’s attorneys also raised a unique argument at trial in that they presented the theory to the jury that the talc used in the Johnson & Johnson product was contaminated with asbestos, an argument not yet seen at trial against Johnson & Johnson. One of the company’s appellate arguments is likely to be that the introduction of such evidence was prejudicial, as the evidence did not support the argument and the science does not support a link between asbestos and ovarian cancer.
The Stemp case was the fifth talc case tried to verdict in Missouri against Johnson & Johnson since the beginning of 2016. The most recent jury verdict was in favor of Johnson & Johnson, so the legal community will pay close attention to how Johnson & Johnson handles the next talc case that it tries to verdict.
Johnson & Johnson’s next talc trial is scheduled to begin in St. Louis in June. The plaintiff is a former competitive figure skater who died of ovarian cancer. An ovarian cancer talc trial is set to begin in Los Angeles against Johnson & Johnson in July, which would be the first trial in the talc litigation to start in California.
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, ext. 204) or Jeniffer A.P. Carson (email her or 617-936-4353, ext. 201).