When we buy a product we expect that it will be safe to use. This is most certainly true when a specific product is generally used on infants and children. Most customers would want to know there is even the slightest health or safety risk when using a product. Fortunately, California law requires companies to include such warnings on products and/or packaging. When a company fails to adequately warn customers of potential dangers they can face serious legal consequences. A Los Angeles jury recently awarded $417 million to a 62-year-old woman after a major company failed to warn about the risks associated with the use of one of their most popular products.
Lawsuit Filed Because Company Failed to Warn of Risks
We’ve all heard of (and probably used) Johnson & Johnson talc powder. Most of us would probably not think twice about potential risks involved when using talc powder. This is probably largely because talc powder is most often associated with babies, infants, and children. Eva Echeverria, the plaintiff in the case above, learned the hard way that long-term use of talc powder can have serious consequences.
Over a span of more than 40 years, Echeverria used Johnson & Johnson talc powder “many thousands of times” for genital hygiene. In 2007, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She continued to use the talc powder after she was diagnosed and up until 2016. That is when she saw a report about the possible links between talc and ovarian cancer. She filed a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson saying that they had not warned her of the risks involved in using their talc powder.
Failure to Warn About Risks
When can a company be liable for failing to warn customers about potential dangers? In California, companies can be liable for injuries caused by defective products. One type of defect is the failure to warn consumers about risks involved in using the product. A victim who suffers an injury must prove:
- The company responsible for the product knew or should have known about a potential risk;
- The potential risk created a substantial danger when used as intended or in a foreseeable manner;
- The risk would not be recognized by ordinary users; and
- The company responsible for the product did not adequately warn customers about the risk.
In this case, Echeverria’s attorneys had to prove:
- Talc powder is linked to ovarian cancer;
- The talc powder was a substantial factor in Echeverria’s development of cancer;
- Johnson & Johnson knew or should have known about the risk; and
- The company failed to provide adequate warnings about such a link.
Johnson & Johnson conceded that their talc powder contained no warning about the possible link between the product and cancer. However, they argued that (1) there was no legitimate science to show that talc was dangerous and (2) even if there was they were not aware of the risk. Internal Johnson & Johnson documents that date back as far back as 1975 mention the “talc ovary problem.” This contradicted the company’s arguments. Apparently, the Los Angeles jury was convinced that Johnson & Johnson was negligent. They awarded Echeverria $70 million in compensatory damages and an $347 million in punitive damages.
Damages in Product Liability Cases
In California, a jury can wary compensatory damages to help injured victims with both economic and non-economic losses. Economic losses are verifiable financial costs that result from an injury. These can include medical expenses, lost wages, and lost earning capacity. Non-economic losses are more subjective. This means that they are harder to value losses that result from an injury.
These can include pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life. Punitive damages are awarded to punish a negligent party for their actions and to deter them from engaging in the same behavior in the future. In this case, the Los Angeles jury found that Johnson & Johnson had actual knowledge of the link between talc and ovarian cancer. Despite this knowledge, they failed to take any steps to warn their customers of this risk. Companies who display a conscious disregard for the safety of others can be required to pay punitive damages. This conscious decision may cost Johnson & Johnson more than $300 million in punitive damages. The company will likely appeal the Los Angeles jury’s decision.
Hiring an Attorney If You Have Been Injured By a Product
Companies have a responsibility to warn customers about potential risks and hazards of products they design, manufacture, distribute, or sell. When a company knows or should know about a potential risk and does nothing they can be held financially responsible for any harms that result.
If you or someone you know has been injured because a product did not have an adequate warning of risk, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the experienced Los Angeles defective product attorneys at Citywide Law Group to schedule a free consultation today. We will review your case, determine potential liability, and answer any questions you may have.