(LAW360 – August 17, 2017) A woman alleging Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products caused her terminal ovarian cancer attacked the company’s credibility during Wednesday’s closing arguments in the California trial, and J&J fired back that its opponent was misinterpreting scientific studies in her bid to win the case.
During the fourth week of the trial in Los Angeles, attorneys representing plaintiff Eva Echeverria, told the jury during his closing argument that J&J’s Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower had caused his client’s cancer, and that the company had refused to place a warning on its products that could have prevented this outcome, despite knowing for decades that talc is dangerous.
“They’re not ever going to warn, unless y’all do something about it,” he said. “While Johnson & Johnson comes in here and plays these legal games, the collateral damage is thousands of women including Ms. Echeverria.”
Plaintiff’s attorneys said that this was clear when looking at the evidence, and asked the jury to evaluate the credibility of J&J’s medical and scientific expert witnesses, and whether they might be biased, saying it was “night and day” when comparing them to Echeverria’s expert witnesses.
Plaintiff’s attorneys pointed to a 1964 internal J&J document that said cornstarch, as opposed to talc, could be absorbed safely in a woman’s vagina, a 1996 newspaper article reporting on condom companies ceasing their use of talc because of health concerns, and a 1997 letter from an industry lobbyist that warned J&J studies were showing a link between genital talc use and ovarian cancer.
They said these, and other documents and publicly available scientific studies, made it clear that J&J knew talc could cause ovarian cancer, but refused, unlike some other talc product makers, to place a warning on its products — and that this behavior warranted the imposition of punitive damages.
Plaintiff’s attorneys did not request a specific damages amount, but told the jury to consider that 1 percent of J&J’s net worth would be $681 million, and that its co-defendant and subsidiary, Johnson & Johnson Consumer, is itself worth $1.5 billion.
Echeverria filed suit with six other women in Los Angeles County Superior Court in July 2016, alleging that for years she used talcum powder mined by Imerys Talc America Inc. and sold by J&J, and that she developed ovarian cancer in 2007. Echeverria is the first plaintiff to head to trial out of the hundreds in the complex litigation consolidating California claims against the companies