Record $417 Million Award Linking Baby Powder To Cancer

On Monday, a jury awarded a California woman $417 million because she developed ovarian cancer and had used Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder for most of her life. The award includes $70 million in compensatory damages and $347 million in punitive damages.

Eva Echeverria, a 63-year-old from Los Angeles, said she had been using the powder as a regular part of her feminine hygiene routine since she was 11 years old. She stopped using it in 2016, after she read a news story about another woman who used it and had ovarian cancer.

This judgement is one of the largest to date for Johnson and Johnson. In May, a jury awarded $110.5 million to a Virginia woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. She had blamed her illness on her use of the company’s talcum powder-containing products for more than 40 years.

Besides that case, three other trials in St. Louis had similar outcomes last year — with juries awarding damages of $72 million, $70.1 million and $55 million, for a combined total of $307.6 million.

Echeverria’s is the first of hundreds of similar cases in California that have yet to be decided. But Echeverria testified that had there been a warning label on the product, she would have stopped using it.

“Mrs. Echeverria is dying from this ovarian cancer and she said to me all she wanted to do was to help the other women throughout the whole country who have ovarian cancer for using Johnson & Johnson for 20 and 30 years,” Echeverria’s attorney, Mark Robinson said.

“She really didn’t want sympathy,” he added. “She just wanted to get a message out to help these other women.”

(Photo credit: Shoe Zone)

At this point, the company has no legal obligation to put such a label on its product. Because talcum powder is legally considered a cosmetic, it does not have to undergo a review by the US Food and Drug Administration like a drug would. But it would have to be properly labeled with ingredients and other information, and the product “must be safe for use by consumers under labeled or customary conditions of use,” according to the agency.

Some other talc-based powders on the market carry labels that mention possible risk of ovarian cancer after frequent application in the female genital area.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classifies the genital use of talc-based body powder as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” The US National Toxicology Program has not fully reviewed talc as a possible carcinogen, according to the American Cancer Society, which says it isn’t clear whether the products increase a person’s cancer risk.

Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said in a statement that the company will appeal the jury’s decision. She says while the company sympathizes with women suffering from ovarian cancer that scientific evidence supports the safety of Johnson’s baby powder.

In most cases, ovarian cancer isn’t diagnosed until it has progressed to an advanced stage. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, only about 20 percent of cases are diagnosed at an early stage. Typically, this is because…