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$417 million awarded in suit tying Johnson’s Baby Powder to cancer

(New York Times)

In what may be the largest award so far in a lawsuit tying ovarian cancer to talcum powder, a Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in damages to a medical receptionist who developed ovarian cancer after using the company’s trademark Johnson’s Baby Powder on her perineum for decades.

Eva Echeverria, 63, of East Los Angeles is one of the thousands of women who had sued the consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson claiming baby powder caused their disease, pointing to studies linking talc to cancer that date to 1971 when scientists in Wales discovered particles of talc embedded in ovarian and cervical tumors.

Only a few lawsuits have gone to trial, but so far most of the decisions have gone against the company. In May, a Missouri jury awarded $110 million to a Virginia woman, a year after Missouri judges awarded $55 million to one plaintiff and $72 million to a woman who died before the verdict. Another woman, Deane Berg of Sioux Falls, S.D., won a lawsuit, but the jury did not award damages.

In March, a St. Louis jury rejected a Tennessee woman’s claim that Johnson & Johnson’s powder caused her ovarian cancer, and a New Jersey judge dismissed two talcum powder lawsuits against the company, a company spokesman said.

Many women sprinkle baby powder on their inner thighs to prevent chafing or use it on their perineum, sanitary pads or underwear for its drying and freshening effects.

Ms. Echeverria, who was too sick to testify in court and gave a videotaped deposition, started using Johnson’s Baby Powder when she was 11 and continued after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007, unaware that some studies had linked talc to cancer, said her lawyer, Mark Robinson. She stopped using it after hearing news reports of a verdict in another lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, he said, and now wanted to warn other women.

“She told me, ‘I’m not doing this for myself,'” Mr. Robinson said. “She knows she’s going to die. She’s doing this for other women. She wants to do something good before she leaves.”

A spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson, Carol Goodrich, said the company would appeal the verdict handed up by a jury in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County and was preparing for additional trials. The company “will continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder,” she said.