Talcum powder had for decades, been marketed as soft, soothing, and safe. There is now a complete turnaround due to lawsuits alleging a link between talc-based products and ovarian cancer. Johnson & Johnson (J&J) now faces approximately 4,800 talc powder lawsuits with every indication that number will increase.
A $417 million award was given by a California jury to a 63-year-old woman who claimed she developed ovarian cancer from using J&J’s Baby Powder as part of her feminine hygiene routine since childhood. This verdict upset J&J’s hopes that the talc cases were possibly going in a more positive direction for the company after a Missouri judge declared a mistrial in June. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled plaintiffs cannot file state court lawsuits in states where their alleged injuries did not occur, reports Reuters.
Talc Mistrial in Missouri
This was a major victory for Johnson & Johnson, as most of the 1,700 pending lawsuits accusing the company of withholding knowledge from the public about talc’s supposed cancer risk are centralized in Missouri. The state’s lenient joinder rules (bringing several legal claims against the same party together) make it relatively easy for nonresident plaintiffs to file lawsuits in mass tort cases, and high-profile verdicts in previous talc trials produced numerous similar claims.
The massive award by the California jury in August to a California resident implied so-called forum-shopping, where parties seek to file cases in whichever jurisdictions seem most favorable.
In addition, some talc contains asbestos, a substance that has been increasingly linked to cancer in and around the lungs when inhaled, according to the American Cancer Society. Extra care must be taken to avoid contamination during the mining process.
Parker Waichman LLP is a national law firm with extensive and successful experience in product liability litigation, including talcum powder’s alleged link to ovarian cancer. Attorneys at the firm are available to answer questions for anyone seeking legal information for potential lawsuits.
J&J Disputes Talc-Cancer Link
J&J disputes the link between talc and cancer and said in a statement it would appeal the California verdict and seek a new trial. The $417 million verdict was more than the sum of all the previous talc awards which totaled $307 million and were distributed by juries in the same state court in St. Louis, Missouri, in cases filed by out-of-state residents. J&J has viewed the St. Louis court as over plaintiff-friendly and has focused on getting the cases brought by out-of-state plaintiffs dismissed.
“This has very much been about forum shopping,” said Howard Erichson, a professor at Fordham School of Law about the talc trials. “The fact that there has been a big verdict in California is definitely interesting.”
The August 21 verdict in Los Angeles Superior Court came in a case corporations have long fought against plaintiffs filing lawsuits in courts favorable to them. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June gave them a big victory, holding that state courts cannot hear claims against companies not based in the state when the alleged injury did not occur there. It appeared J&J to be a beneficiary of that ruling, which a St. Louis judge cited in declaring a mistrial in a talc case involving two out-of-state women, according to Reuters.
J&J also said it believed the Supreme Court decision required the reversal of the four St. Louis verdicts. However, legal experts said the verdict in the California case, where venue was not an issue, could shift the focus back to the evidence.
In February 2016, the first talc award against J&J was handed down in St. Louis state court with the jury ordering J&J to pay $72 million. J&J won in only one of the four talc trials that followed in the same court. The other verdicts ranged from $55 million to $110 million.
J&J has decried the St. Louis court for permitting plaintiffs to present expert testimony linking talc products with cancer that the company maintains is speculative and scientifically unsound. It has appeals pending on those grounds.
J&J has compared the Missouri court’s stance to a New Jersey state ruling in September 2016 that disqualified plaintiffs’ experts, leading to the dismissal of two talc cases. The plaintiffs’ appeal of that ruling is still pending, reports Reuters.
Legal Information for Talc-Based Product Issues
If you or someone you know has been injured by a Johnson & Johnson talc-based product, such as Baby Powder or Shower-to-Shower, you may be eligible for compensation. Parker Waichman LLP offers free, no-obligation case evaluations. We urge you to contact the personal injury lawyers at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).