The $417 Million Baby Powder Lawsuit and 15 Other Infamous Personal Injury Cases
Could baby powder cause cancer? Some people say yes, and juries around the country agree with them. In August 2017, a jury awarded $417 million to a California woman who said her ovarian cancer was linked to the talc in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder. It’s not the first time the company has been ordered to compensate an individual because of damage supposedly inflicted by its iconic product. A Missouri woman was awarded $110 million in May 2017 in another baby powder lawsuit, and the company has been ordered to pay tens of millions of dollars more in a handful of other cases.
Johnson & Johnson says its product is safe and plans to appeal the verdict. The company is likely to spend years tied up in court, as more people file lawsuits alleging the baby powder contributed to their illness.
The baby powder verdict is big, but it’s hardly the first time a company has been ordered to pay big bucks after injuring someone. From the infamous hot coffee lawsuit to the case of a dangerous acne drug, here are 15 times when companies had to pay big bucks for injuring people or selling dangerous products.
1. Liebeck vs. McDonald’s Restaurants
Total award: $2.86 million
Mention frivolous lawsuits, and many people will think immediately of the McDonald’s hot coffee case. In 1993, the fast food chain was ordered to pay Stella Liebeck close to $3 million after she was burned by a cup of Joe from the restaurant. To many, it looked like a case of greedy lawyers and a woman trying to make a quick buck. Could you really be seriously injured by coffee?
Yes, it turns out. Then 79 years old, Liebeck suffered second- and third-degree burns over 16% of her body when a cup of coffee she ordered from a McDonald’s drive-thru spilled in her lap. Initially, she asked McDonald’s to pay her $10,000 in medical bills; the company offered her just $800. Cue the lawsuit. After learning that McDonald’s regularly sold coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit and had received hundreds of complaints about too-hot beverages, a jury awarded Liebeck $160,000 in compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages. She eventually received $500,000.
Next: The case against big tobacco
2. Cynthia Robinson vs. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company
Total award: $23.6 billion
Big tobacco has paid out billions of dollars over the years for hiding the truth about its dangerous products. One of the most eye-popping settlements was in the case of Cynthia Robinson vs. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
Robinson’s husband, Michael Johnson, died in 1996 at age 36 from lung cancer. She eventually sued R.J. Reynolds, arguing that the company didn’t warn smokers cigarettes were addictive and could cause cancer. In 2014, a jury awarded her $23.6 billion. The award was eventually reduced to $16.9 million, and in 2017 a judge ordered a new trial.
Next: Exploding gas tanks
3. Anderson vs. General Motors
Total award: $4.9 billion
In 1999, General Motors was ordered to pay $4.9 billion to six people who were seriously burned when the gas tank of their 1979 Chevy Malibu exploded after the car was rear-ended. At the time, it was the biggest award in a personal injury case. The victims’ lawyer argued that GM knew the gas tank placement was dangerous but didn’t want to spend the money to change it. The automaker’s lawyers eventually got the award reduced to $1.2 billion.
Next: This store has to pay for selling products containing asbestos.
4. Jerry Coogan vs. Genuine Parts Co.
Total award: $81.5 million
People have long known asbestos is deadly, but companies are still paying out huge sums to people exposed to the cancer-causing substance through their negligence. In April 2017, a jury in Washington awarded $81.5 million to the family of Jerry Coogan, a heavy equipment operator who died of complications from mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
Coogan worked for years with asbestos-containing products made by Genuine Parts Co., the parent of the NAPA Auto Parts chain. Lawyers argued that the company continued to sell the asbestos-tainted products as late as 2001, long after the risks associated with asbestos were known. A New York couple was awarded $75 million in January 2017 in a similar case against a different manufacturer.
Next: An over-the-counter children’s medication caused serious injuries.
5. Reckis vs. Johnson & Johnson
Total award: $63 million
When Samantha Reckis’ parents gave their 7-year-old daughter a dose of Children’s Motrin, she suffered a life-threatening allergic reaction that caused toxic epidermal necrolysis, a disease that burns off the outer layer of skin. Reckis was blinded by the incident and her lungs were seriously damaged. A decade later, in 2013, a jury ordered the drug’s manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, to pay her and her family $63 million. The company appealed the verdict all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.
Next: A horrific go-kart accident led to this big jury award.
6. Cowart vs. Johnson Kart Manufacturing Inc.
Total award: $1 billion
In 1992, Jennifer Cowart suffered severe burns over almost her entire body when a go-kart she was driving crashed and burst into flames. She lived for a year after the accident before she died from an infection related to her injuries. Her survivors sued the makers of the go-kart, the owners of the go-kart track, and the makers of the vehicle’s gas tank and cap. In 1999, a jury ordered the cart manufacturer to pay $1 billion in punitive damages.
Next: Another case against Johnson & Johnson
7. Engleman vs. Ethicon
Total award: $20 million
Johnson & Johnson just can’t win. The company has been ordered to pay millions of dollars to at least five women injured by defective vaginal-mesh inserts, Bloomberg reported. The most recent verdict was handed down in April 2017. A jury told Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, to pay $20 million to Margaret Engleman, including $17.5 million in punitive damages.
Engleman received a mesh implant from the company that was designed to treat urinary incontinence. However, the implants can degrade over time, causing parts to “break off inside the body and pierce organs internally,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Next: These car seats weren’t safe for kids.
8. Hinson vs. Dorel Juvenile Group
Total award: $34.4 million
After a 2013 car accident left their 3-year-old with life-altering spinal cord and brain injuries, Nicole and Cameron Hinson sued Dorel Juvenile Group, the company that made the car seat their child was riding in at the time of the crash. The family’s lawyer argued that the company hadn’t properly warned people about the risks of toddlers riding in forward-facing car seats. A jury agreed that the car seat manufacturer was at fault and awarded the family $24.4 million for the child’s injuries and an additional $10 million for Dorel’s “gross negligence.” Dorel is appealing the verdict.
Next: This man said he was injured on a cruise ship.
9. Hausman vs. Holland America
Total award: $21.5 million
When a passenger was injured by a sliding glass door on a cruise ship, he took the company to court. James Hausman, a businessman from Illinois, suffered a minor brain injury when he was hit in the head by an automatic sliding glass door on Holland America’s M/S Amsterdam in 2011, The Seattle Times reported. He sued Holland America, claiming it was responsible for his injuries and was aware that other passengers had been hurt in similar incidents. In 2015, a jury awarded him $21.5 million, but a few months later a judge tossed the verdict after inconsistencies with the man’s story emerged.
Next: This company made a toy coated with the date-rape drug.
10. Monje vs. Spin Master Incorporated
Total award: $435,000
Aqua Dots looked harmless, but they turned out to be seriously dangerous. In 2007, parents began to complain that their children were getting sick after accidentally ingesting the dots, which could be stuck together and formed into different shapes when sprayed with water. Some kids even fell into comas and had to be hospitalized.
Eventually, the company realized the dots were coated with a chemical that converted into GHB, or the “date-rape drug,” when ingested. Spin Master, which made the dots, pulled the product from store shelves and agreed to pay a $1.3 million fine. That wasn’t enough for parents of injured children, though. One Arizona family sued, saying their child suffered permanent brain damage after eating the dots. A jury awarded them $435,000 in 2015.
Next: An acne medication came with some serious side effects.
11. McCarrell vs. Hoffmann-LaRoche
Total award: $25 million
Isotretinoin is a powerful acne-fighting drug that was once sold by drug-maker Hoffmann-La Roche under the brand name Accutane. In 2009, the company pulled the medication from the market, in part because of increasing competition from generics, but also because it was facing an increasing number of personal injury lawsuits from people who said they were hurt by the drug’s side effects, which include birth defects, depression, and inflammatory bowel disease.
In one of those cases, a New Jersey jury awarded $25 million to a man who ultimately had to have his colon removed after taking the drug. The drug maker is facing thousands of other lawsuits from people who say they were injured after taking Accutane.
Next: A problem with this automaker’s cars caused deadly accidents.
12. Adams et al. vs. Toyota Motor Corp. et al.
Total award: $11 million
In 2009, Toyota agreed to pay a $1.2 billion fine to the Justice Department to avoid criminal prosecution for covering up issues that caused the sudden acceleration of some of its vehicles, a problem that led to a number of deadly crashes. But that didn’t put a stop to hundreds of wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits from accident victims
One of those cases resulted in an $11 million jury award. The automaker was ordered to pay the money to the survivors of three people killed in an accident in Minnesota in 2006, as well as the driver who was wrongfully imprisoned after the crash. The man, Koua Fong Lee, spent 2½ years in prison before he was freed after information about the vehicle defects became public.
Next: A tragedy at a baseball game led to the next lawsuit.
13. Patch vs. Hillerich & Bradsby
Total award: $850,000
A tragic accident at a baseball game led to this six-figure jury award in 2009. In 2003, 18-year-old Brandon Patch was pitching at an American Legion baseball game in Helena, Montana, when he was struck in the head by a ball hit by an aluminum baseball bat. His family sued Hillerich & Bradsby, the makers of the Louisville Slugger bat, saying they should have warned people that balls hit with the metal bats would travel faster than those hit with a wooden bat. The jury agreed that the bat needed a warning and told the company to pay up.
Next: This man sued after a hunting trip gone wrong.
14. O’Bryan vs. Primal Vantage Co.
Total award: $18.5 million
In 2012, Kevin O’Bryan was seriously injured when he fell out of treestand while turkey hunting. He sued the manufacturer, Primal Vantage Co., arguing that it didn’t properly warn of the risks involved in using the product. A jury awarded O’Bryan $18.5 million. However, the jurors agreed that O’Bryan was partially responsible for his injuries, reducing the damages he’ll receive by 50%.
Next: The case of a faulty stepladder
15. Ore vs. Tricam Industries Inc. et al.
Total award: $4.7 million
In July 2017, a jury awarded a Florida man nearly $5 million for injuries he received after falling off a defective stepladder. The ladder was manufactured by Tricam Industries and sold by Home Depot, which was also named in the lawsuit. The attorneys for Moises Ore argued that a design flaw caused the ladder to fail. The fall caused a herniated disk, resulted in two surgeries, and required a joint in his big toe to be replaced. It also left him unable to perform his old job.