Why would a jury award 417 million dollars to one woman who used talc? The answer is justice and economics. In order for a jury to award a sum of money so large, the jurors must have heard evidence during the trial that offended their sense of justice – a lot. In the case of Eva Echeverria v Johnson & Johnson the jury heard evidence that Johnson & Johnson executives knew for decades that talc caused cancer and refused to warn their customers. During the trial, Johnson & Johnson tried to argue that talc didn’t cause Ms. Echeverria’s cancer, but clearly the jury believed that it did.
After hearing all evidence presented by both sides, the jury believed that Johnson & Johnson executives knew talc caused cancer and deliberately chose not to warn their loyal customers. The reason the company did not warn likely came down to profits. Warnings are effective at getting some people to stop using the product. A company that sells hundreds of millions of dollars of a product per year will see sales drop tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars. Adequate warnings are effective for both customers and manufacturers. If Johnson & Johnson had adequately warned of the risk of cancer, customers would have been responsible for heeding the warning. Johnson & Johnson executives made a choice not to warn and instead took the risk that women would get ovarian cancer as a result of using talc. A moral compass and a sense of justice should have informed Johnson & Johnson executives that the only right thing to do was to inform its customers of the cancer risk and allow its customers to make the choice of whether nor not to use their product. If Johnson & Johnson had adequately warned of the risk of cancer, users of talc products would have been informed and could have made an informed choice. The company likely would have fulfilled its duty and not been liable.
Johnson & Johnson, however, chose not to warn of the risk of ovarian cancer. As a result, the company continued maximizing its sales, income, profits and executive bonuses. The jury decided that when a company chooses to behave this way, justice and economics in a free market demand a large verdict from informed jurors. Johnson & Johnson received justice under the law, as did Ms. Echeverria.