Two record payouts against the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson won’t be proceeding following recent judgements by the Superior Court of California and the Missouri Court of Appeals.
Both verdicts rejected the findings of previous trials, where juries decided there was sufficient evidence that the company’s baby powder product was responsible for the development of cancer in two women.
Last Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Maren Nelson claimed there was insufficient evidence linking the use of talcum powder with cancer of the ovaries, reversing a ruling made earlier this year that would have seen the company pay US$417 million in damages.
The plaintiff, Eva Echeverria, developed ovarian cancer in 2016, and has since passed away.
The case eclipsed the previous record of US$105 million in punitive damages plus US$5.4 million in compensation being awarded to a Missouri resident by the name of Lois Slemp back in May.
On Tuesday, a Missouri appellate court reversed a case from early 2016 that awarded US$72 million to the family of Jacqueline Fox, who passed away from ovarian cancer the previous October.
These trials represent just a handful of nearly five thousand cases accusing the company of promoting the use of talcum powder in spite of knowing the risks.
The Los Angeles Superior Court judge granted Johnson & Johnson’s motions for a new trial, while the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District ruled Jacqueline Fox’s claims didn’t arise from activities conducted in their state.
Not all of the trials have succeeded in convincing juries of a link, and as these mixes of verdicts and rejections show, the process of trials, appeals, and retrials is a long and arduous one.
It’s not surprising that the juries and judges are so conflicted in their decisions – the science behind the cases isn’t at all clear on whether there’s a solid causal relationship between the application of talcum powder around the genitals and the onset of ovarian cancer.
In spite of half a century of debate, there is still evidence for and against the claim, leaving plenty of room for debate over the risks.
The American Cancer Society advises people should stop using talcum powder if they’re concerned, stopping well short of claiming there is a link.
Lawyers for both families state they are considering appealing the decision.
With more cases to be heard and no doubt further appeals, both the legal and scientific debate over talcum powder’s effects on our health is far from over.