No More Tears – of Talc? Jury Hits J&J with Massive Punitive Damages Verdict

Everyone is familiar with the Johnson and Johnson brand. It is advertised everywhere – a familiar and trusted brand, associated especially with children. Who doesn’t know the slogan “No More Tears.”

However, recently J&J has come under fire in a Missouri lawsuit, in which a jury awarded $72 million in damages to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer – allegedly because of using Johnson’s talc-based baby and body powders.

Leaving aside the science – how did the jury come up with such a large number? Well it starts with the award of $10 million in compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are meant to “compensate” an injured party or their family for things they have actually lost – such as perhaps medical bills, lost wages, or “loss of consortium,” which is basically the legal name for the loss you experience when you no longer have a very close loved one in your life anymore.

The jury then took the amount of damages, and awarded the decedent’s family an additional $62 million in punitive damages.

Punitive damages are designed to “punish” a defendant and are considered to be an extraordinary award. Statistics show they are only awarded in a small percentage of cases, and when they are awarded, they are usually reasonably low awards. It’s just that when you hear about them, they’re huge awards, like the award in this case.

Here in Massachusetts, punitive damages can only be awarded if allowed by statute such as in wrongful death, employee discrimination or medical malpractice cases. In medical malpractice cases, there is a cap of $500,000 unless it is proven that the injury was catastrophic.

Case law here in the Commonwealth has established that punitive damages are only available for outrageous or evil conduct or where a defendant exhibited reckless indifference to a person’s well-being. Additionally, punitive damages can only be awarded in addition to compensatory damages.

So, how much in punitive damages can be awarded? In theory at least, it’s based on a multiplier using the level of negligence to determine the number; then the compensatory damages are multiplied by that number to determine the amount of punitive damages in a particular case.

Going back to Missouri, the family was awarded $10 million in compensatory damages. The punitive award was based on the evidence proving that the famous company Johnson & Johnson had lied about the health risks of their talc-based products for over forty years, and, in addition, had falsified information to pass safety regulations governing those products.

For more information about the Johnson case, see the original article here.

If you feel you have been injured, contact Levine-Piro Law at 978-637-2048 to schedule a consultation or e-mail office@levinepirolaw.com.