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As in the trial court, the standard of review on appeal from a ruling on a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) is whether any substantial evidence—contradicted or uncontradicted—supports the jury's conclusion. The appellate court, like the trial court, may not reweigh the evidence or judge the credibility of witnesses. If the evidence is conflicting or if several reasonable inferences may be drawn, the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict should be denied. When an appellate court reviews an order granting JNOV, it will resolve any conflict in the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the jury's verdict.
This case is one of several coordinated suits in which the plaintiffs allege talcum powder products manufactured by defendants, Johnson & Johnson, and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc., caused them to develop ovarian cancer. Plaintiff, Eva Echeverria's case was tried to a jury on a single claim of negligent failure to warn. The jury returned a verdict in plaintiff's favor against both defendants, awarding compensatory and punitive damages against them. Defendants then filed motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict as to liability and punitive damages, as well as a joint motion for a new trial. The trial court granted the motions. Both sides have appealed. The trial court granted judgment notwithstanding the verdict to a manufacturer and its subsidiary after a jury found liability and awarded damages on a failure-to-warn products liability claim.
Did the trial court err in granting the judgment notwithstanding the verdict to defendants-a manufacturer and its subsidiary?
Yes. The court affirmed in part of the manufacturer, reversed in part of its subsidiary, and remanded the case for a new trial.
The court held that the defendant was entitled to judgment notwithstanding the verdict on a failure-to-warn products liability claim because there was no substantial evidence it knew of risks, it had no duty to warn after it ceased manufacturing the product, and it did not direct or control the subsidiary in manufacturing the product. The defendant-subsidiary was not entitled to judgment notwithstanding the verdict because it knew of multiple studies indicating the product likely was a carcinogen. The court also ruled that an expert's opinion on specific causation was sufficiently supported because it was based on reliable literature and addressed other risk factors and possible causes. Thus, the subsidiary's criticism of the studies was not a despicable conduct, punitive damages could not be awarded since the evidence failed to support a finding of malice. Since, causation evidence was in significant conflict, a new trial order had to be upheld.