Plaintiffs and defense spar over qualifications, family history issues

By John Sammon | Jul 5, 2018

ST. LOUIS – The attorney for 22 women suing Johnson & Johnson for the baby powder they said caused their ovarian cancer and a medical doctor witness for the defense traded barbs in court on July 3.

ST. LOUIS – The attorney for 22 women suing Johnson & Johnson for the baby powder they said caused their ovarian cancer and a medical doctor witness for the defense traded barbs in court on July 3.

“You’ve been making stuff up like crazy up there,” plaintiffs' attorney Mark Lanier told Dr. Cheryl Saenz, a gynecologist oncologist with the UC San Diego School of Medicine and a witness called by the defense.

“With due respect sir, I resent that,” Saenz said.

Lanier shot back, “With due respect as the lawyer representing these ladies, I took offense at the way you made stuff up."

The trial held in the St. Louis City Circuit Court is being streamed courtesy of Courtroom View Network.

As he has done previously in a trial now in its fourth week, Lanier sought to undermine the credibility of defense witnesses while the defense sought to establish that the women had contracted ovarian cancer not from alleged asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talc powder - but inherited the disease from family histories of cancer.

Lisa Simpson, one of a team of three lawyers defending J&J, asked Saenz if she had reviewed the case history of the women plaintiffs, including Stephanie Martin.

“I did,” Saenz said.

She was asked for her opinion.

“Martin had a number of relatives who had cancer including cancers known to go along with the development of ovarian cancer,” Saenz said. “Her mom had breast cancer.”

Saenz added that the woman also had a mutated BRCA gene, a human gene that can lead to cancer although the result in Martin's case was inconclusive.

“I don’t think talc contributed to her developing ovarian cancer,” Saenz added.

“Is it your opinion that Martin would have developed ovarian cancer even had she not used Johnson & Johnson products talcum powder?” Simpson asked.

“Yes,” Saenz said.

In the case of another plaintiff, Swartz Thomas, Saenz said the woman was also predisposed to the disease because of her family history and not from the use of talc powder.

“She (Thomas) was 44 when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had a genetic mutation in the BRCA gene,” Saenz explained. “We don’t know if it was pathogenic, there is not enough information. She had a strong family history that places her at increased risk of ovarian cancer. Her father had prostate cancer. Her aunt had breast cancer and her (aunt’s) daughter had breast cancer as well.”

Saenz said she did not believe Thomas got cancer from talc powder.

Simpson asked Saenz if the baby powder caused any of 12 plaintiffs reviewed to get ovarian cancer.

“It did not,” Saenz said.

Under cross-examination, Lanier said Saenz had chosen to close her eyes and clog up her ears and presented a drawing of three proverbial monkeys, see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

“Are you actively publishing (scientific) papers on what causes cancer?” Lanier asked.

“At the present?” Saenz asked.

“Yes.”

“That’s not my focus right now,” Saenz said.

Lanier asked if Saenz had published one paper 18 years ago?

“Correct,” Saenz agreed.

Dr. Dean W. Felsher, a cancer researcher at Stanford University whose findings the plaintiffs have cited allegedly linking talc to ovarian cancer, had published hundreds of articles on the subject, Lanier noted.

“Have you published on what causes cancer?” Lanier asked.

“No I have not,” Saenz answered.

“Have you purposefully closed your eyes to Felsher?” Lanier asked.

“He’s a researcher, I’m an expert in the treatment of ovarian cancer, that’s what I’m here to testify about today,” Saenz said.

“No,” Lanier countered. “That’s what you should be here to testify about.”

“I’m an expert in ovarian cancer,” Saenz maintained.

“No ma’am you’re not an expert in what causes it,” Lanier said.

Saenz said the fact she had not extensively published scientific papers on cancer did not mean she was not an expert.

“You have not focused on asbestos,” Lanier said.

“That’s true,” Saenz said. “It’s not my specialty.”

“You didn’t even know about asbestos and ovarian cancer until you got involved in this case and they started paying you $1,200 an hour to do your Google searches, right?” Lanier asked.

“I don’t agree with that I don’t charge $1,200 an hour to do Google searches,” Saenz said.

“What did you charge to do Google searches?” Lanier asked.

Saenz answered $750 an hour.

“We could get Dr. Felsher and Dr. Moline (Jacqueline Moline internal medicine expert) for the price of you,” Lanier said.

Saenz agreed she was not an expert on asbestos and had not researched exposure to the mineral in her findings.

Lanier cited medical organizations such as the National Cancer Institute for establishing that asbestos is a factor for increased cancer risk. He said even Dr. Doug Weed, an epidemiologist and a witness for the defense, agreed with that.

On redirect, Simpson said Lanier had suggested Saenz did not do her homework on the case.

“That’s not true is it?” Simpson asked.

“I don’t believe that’s true I worked very hard on this case,” Saenz said.    

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Organizations in this Story

National Cancer Institute The Lanier Law Firm PLLC UC San Diego Health

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