One case to rule them all?
That's a big question after a judge overturned a $417 million jury verdict against Johnson & Johnson. The Los Angeles judge said the plaintiff did not prove the company's talcum powder product caused her ovarian cancer.
Eva Echeverria, who died after the verdict, is one of thousands of plaintiffs suing Johnson & Johnson in talc powder cases across the country. She had the largest jury award of them all, but the reversal casts a long shadow on the plaintiffs' bar.
A Long Shadow
Echeverria's lawyers won a verdict for $70 million in compensatory damages and $347 in punitive damages in August. Judge Maren Nelson set it aside and ordered a new trial, citing errors by the lawyers and jurors.
Mark Robinson, who represented the plaintiff, said he would appeal. "We will continue to fight on behalf of all women who have been impacted by this dangerous product," he said.
The decision may affect 4,800 plaintiffs nationally making the same claims about talc. Echeverria's case was the first to go to trial in California.
In Missouri, however, an appeals court threw out a $72 million verdict against the company this month on jurisdictional grounds. Defense attorneys say the Missouri case and the California case bode well for the company.
In Echeverria's case, the judge said the evidence showed at best there's "an ongoing debate in the scientific and medical community about whether talc more probably than not causes ovarian cancer and thus (gives) rise to a duty to warn." That's not enough to prove causation or to justify punitive damages.
According to reports, many of the plaintiffs elsewhere are relying on the same evidence. They claim, based on internal company documents, that Johnson & Johnson knew about the cancer risks and failed to warn consumers.
Leigh O'Dell, one of the lead attorneys in federal multi-district litigation against the company, told Reuters the Echeverria ruling won't affect their case.
"It's not the result we had hoped for in the plaintiffs' world," he said. "The ruling is contrary to the law as we understand it in California."
Bart Williams, counsel for Johnson & Johnson, said the decision will impact the other cases. It's not the first talc case to be thrown out, and it won't be the last -- especially since most of the plaintiffs have filed in California.