Johnson & Johnson wins appeal of $417M talc verdict, vows to keep fighting as cases mount

In less than a week, Johnson & Johnson has successfully challenged two talc verdicts and wiped away nearly $500 million in liabilities. A judge in Los Angeles on Friday reversed the company's largest loss to date, a $417 million verdict in the case of a woman who argued routine use caused her ovarian cancer, and ordered a new trial. 

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Maren Nelson wrote on Friday that the evidence presented at a three-week trial didn't support the large verdict. The judge invalided the jury's decision and set up a new trial, just days after J&J convinced an appeals court in St. Louis to toss a separate $72 million verdict. 

Together, the decisions are a major lift for a drugmaker that's facing 4,800 talc cases around the country. Before the appeals, its losses added up to more than $700 million in damages from just a few trials. 

Reached in August, the California verdict followed a trial in the case of Eva Echeverria, who sought to convince the court and jury that J&J's product caused her ovarian cancer. Despite the jury's decision, Judge Nelson thought the evidence came short. 

"Reviewing all of the evidence in the light most favorable to Evacharria the best that can be said is that there was (and is) an on-going debate in the scientific and medical community about whether talc more probably than not causes ovarian cancer and thus giving rise to a duty to warn," Judge Nelson wrote. "Clear and convincing evidence of malice is lacking." 

In a statement, a J&J spokesperson said the company is pleased with the decision. 

"Ovarian cancer is a devastating disease—but it is not caused by the cosmetic-grade talc we have used in Johnson’s Baby Powder for decades," company spokesperson Carol Goodrich said via email. "The science is clear and we will continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder as we prepare for additional trials in the U.S.” 

The plaintiffs plan to appeal, attorney Mark Robinson told Reuters in a statement.  

“We will continue to fight on behalf of all women who have been impacted by this dangerous product,” he added. 

Judge Nelson's decision came right on the heels of a separate victory for J&J in St. Louis, where it was able to reverse a $72 million verdict on appeal. In that case, a panel ruled that because of a new Bristol-Myers Squibb Supreme Court decision from earlier this year, the St. Louis court didn't have jurisdiction to handle a claim from an out-of-state plaintiff. 

That plaintiff, Jacqueline Fox, was a resident of Alabama and sued J&J in St. Louis along with many other women who argued talc caused their ovarian cancer. This summer, however, the Supreme Court ruled in an unrelated case that plaintiffs can’t take their pick of venues when suing drugmakers just because drug companies sell products and maintain operations around the country. The appeals court tossed the Fox verdict and didn't order a new trial. Her attorney said the team would look at legal options. 

J&J has suffered several other losses in the saga—worth $55 million, $70 million and $110 million—and has pledged to appeal each defeat. It's facing thousands of other claims, and some legal experts believe the company is willing to fight case by case rather than ink a massive settlement.