ST. LOUIS – A gynecological oncologist called by Johnson & Johnson disputed an allegation he was engaging in a conflict of interest in withholding information from some of the 22 women suing the company over its baby powder they claimed gave them ovarian cancer----by not telling them he was testifying against them in court.
Coverage of the trial is being streamed courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
“Do you understand that people have a right to justice?” plaintiffs' attorney Mark Lanier asked.
“Yes,” responded Dr. Warner Huh, an obstetrician-gynecologist with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) lab.
“Whether their cancer is caused by a defective product?” Lanier asked.
“Okay, yes!” Huh answered.
“Some of your patients have enlisted the court to do just that very thing,” Lanier said. “So they and their families can get resolution, and financial compensation, you know how important that is, right?”
“I understand,” Huh said.
“It would be important for someone to find out if someone was responsible for that (cancer), right?” Lanier pressed.
“Okay!” Huh said.
“Yet you don’t think it would hinder your relationship with these patients, if they found out that their lawsuit you were testifying is invalid?” Lanier asked.
“I don’t see how that affects my relationship,” Huh said.
“Wow!” Lanier responded in disbelief.
The July 5 session again saw the defense continue to portray the plaintiffs’ ovarian cancer not a result of the alleged asbestos the talc they used contained, but a trait inherited from family histories of cancer.
Lisa Simpson, an attorney for the defense, had Huh give his medical observations of some of the plaintiffs. Six of the women have died from ovarian cancer since before the trial began four weeks ago.
“I tell patients I do not think there is a relationship between cancer and talc,” Huh said.
Three of the plaintiffs Krystal Kim, Marcia Hillman and Annette Koman had cancer backgrounds in their families, Huh noted.
“Kim was 49 when she was diagnosed and that shows a (cancer) predisposition,” he explained. "The main thing is her young age, most are around age 63.”
Kim had a father with stomach cancer, a mother with colon cancer and an aunt and a cousin each with breast cancer.
Huh told the jury one test that had found asbestos fibers in Kim’s tissues was not proof of talc as a culprit in causing cancer.
“Just because of the presence of talc or asbestos does not mean that’s what caused her (Kim’s) cancer,” he said. “She had tissue removed that had cancer, but no asbestos was seen. There are tumors that have no asbestos. It’s inconsistent what was found.”
Lanier customarily draws a road map projected on a wall for the jury to see representing his questions and his reaction to the answers from each witness.
He accused Huh of donning blinders so he wouldn’t see the truth, and of being unqualified to make judgments about asbestos exposure.
“You never used the word asbestos in the first 35 minutes of your testimony, did you know that?” Lanier asked.
“No, I did not know that,” Huh said.
“Your asbestos qualifications are zero,” Lanier said.
“I don’t agree,” Huh said.
“Six weeks ago before your deposition after you were retained as a (defense) expert, you did not even know that asbestos causes mesothelioma,” Lanier said.
“Have you specialty training in asbestos?” Lanier asked.
“No,” Huh replied.
“Have you taught on it?” Lanier asked.
“No,” Huh answered.
“Have you researched on it?” Lanier continued.
“No,” Huh said.
“You really learned about asbestos since you gave your deposition six weeks ago,” Lanier said.
“That I disagree with,” Huh answered.
“Are there any other asbestos qualifications before you formed your opinions in this case?” Lanier asked.
“No,” Huh said.
“Some of the women I represent, that you have as a patient,” Lanier said. “You never explained to them that you are testifying under oath, that their position in this case against this company (Johnson & Johnson) is hooey?”
Lanier asked Huh if he didn’t see it as a potential conflict of interest not advising his patients he was testifying in the case.
“As it relates specifically to patient care no,” Huh said. “If asked I tell them. I don’t see it as a potential conflict of interest.”
When Lanier made an analogy that asbestos exposure and the relationship between talc and ovarian cancer was like pouring gasoline on a flame, Huh said he strongly disagreed.
“A relationship between talc and ovarian cancer doesn’t exist that’s why I don’t have an analogy,” he said.
Under cross examination Simpson asked Huh if it would be impossible to know if one of his patients was filing a lawsuit unless they told him?
“Right,” Huh said. “The only way for me to know if the patient filed a lawsuit is if they came to the office and notified me verbally or in writing.”
Later in the day, Dr. John Hopkins, a former Johnson & Johnson employee who worked for the company from 1976 to 2000 and who now runs a toxicology consulting firm, appeared as a defense witness. He was asked if J&J’s testing method of talc had been thorough?
“Yes,” he said. “No one could be any more thorough. There was a culture in the company to do the best you can.”