Jackpot! Woman wins $417 million in lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson

EnlargeSimon Dawson  Bloomberg via Getty Images

J&J, the world's largest healthcare company, is accused of ignoring studies linking its baby powder and "Shower to Shower" talc products to ovarian cancer and failing to warn customers about the risk.

Echeverria's attorney, Mark Robinson, revealed his client is undergoing cancer treatment while hospitalized and told him she hoped the verdict would lead Johnson & Johnson to put additional warnings on its products.

The jury found the company was liable for failing to warn the woman about the cancer risks of using talcum products. The verdict includes $347 million in punitive damages. She used the company's baby powder on a daily basis beginning in the 1950s until 2016 and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007.

"We will appeal today's verdict because we are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson's Baby Powder", Carol Goodrich, a Johnson & Johnson representative said in a statement after the verdict. The amount the court has ordered Johnson & Johnson for this lawsuit is more than the total of other talc lawsuits, which totaled to $307 million. That can potentially be a problem for talc miners who inhale the substance in its natural form (which may contain asbestos) and therefore potentially increase their risk for lung cancer. Scientific studies about this link have provided little to no evidence that the powder could cause ovarian cancer.

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Legal experts say the recent $417M awarded to a woman in a California district court against Johnson & Johnson (JNJ -1%) suggests forum-shopping, meaning plaintiffs seek to file cases in favorable jurisdictions. This can be pretty unreliable because of hindsight bias, which might encourage some people to attribute more significance to something (say, their use of talcum powder) after an issue has been raised, but not before.

Another St. Louis jury rejected the claims of a Tennessee woman with ovarian and uterine cancer who asserted that her use of talcum powder caused her cancers. The evidence in the case included internal documents from several decades that "showed the jury that Johnson & Johnson knew about the risks of talc and ovarian cancer", Mr. Robinson said. But as the American Cancer Society notes, those kinds of studies can be biased because they rely on a person's memory of talc use years after the fact.

Another St. Louis jury in March rejected the claims of a Tennessee woman with ovarian and uterine cancer who blamed talcum powder for her cancers.

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