ST. LOUIS – Johnson & Johnson officials pledged to appeal a $4.69 billion court judgment against them the day after a trial in which 22 women won a landmark case accusing the company of causing their ovarian cancer from use of baby powder containing asbestos.
It was the largest judgment so far in approximately 900 talc-related cases against Johnson & Johnson going on in federal and state courts across the country. Coverage during the trial was streamed courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson called the July 12 verdict in the St. Louis City Circuit Court unfair.
“Something must be done to reform the system so that out of state plaintiffs stop flocking to St. Louis to take advantage of what plaintiff lawyers have concluded is the most favorable jurisdiction for plaintiffs to win big awards,” Peter Bicks told the St. Louis Record.
Bicks with the New York law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, was one of a team of three attorneys for the defense of Johnson & Johnson.
However, the attorney for the plaintiffs Houston-based Mark Lanier said the verdict sent a valuable message.
“Getting word out is good enough,” Lanier told the St. Louis Record. “The (J&J) powder has asbestos in it. Don’t use the powder. That’s most important.”
The St. Louis Court awarded a total of $550,000,000 in compensation to the women, six of whom died before the trial started on June 6. In those cases, awards were given to the spouses or closest relatives of the deceased plaintiffs.
In addition punitive damages separate from the plaintiff compensation totaling $4.1 billion was levied to punish the company, found by the jury to be liable for negligence.
Calls to Johnson & Johnson’s corporate office for a statement after the trial produced no response. A phone receptionist said no media spokesperson was available for comment and no media department could be contacted.
A call to Ernie Knewtiz, Johnson & Johnson vice president of global media relations, went unreturned. However, an assistant for Knewtiz emailed the same statement as seen on the company’s website.
The statement said Johnson & Johnson officials were deeply disappointed by the outcome of the verdict.
“The verdict was the product of a fundamentally unfair process that allowed the plaintiffs to present a group of 22 women, most of whom had no connection to Missouri, in a single case all alleging that they developed ovarian cancer,” the statement read. “The result of the verdict, which awarded the same exact amounts to all of the plaintiffs irrespective of their individual facts, and differences in applicable law, reflects that the evidence in the case was simply overwhelmed by the prejudice of this type of proceeding.”
The statement went on to say that past such verdicts in cases involving Johnson & Johnson baby powder had been reversed on appeal.
During the trial, Bicks and fellow defense attorneys Morton Dubin and Lisa Simpson contended the women got ovarian cancer not as a result of talc powder use, but because they had prior family histories of different kinds of cancer among their relatives---that made them more susceptible.
Lanier countered that Johnson & Johnson ignored studies that warned of the dangers of using talc powder and its link with ovarian cancer. He said the company was more interested in making money than seeing the truth and failed to use a more stringent testing method that was available in the 1970s to spot asbestos fibers in talc.
Both sides presented their own expert witnesses to testify, the defense using gynecological oncologist doctors, while the plaintiffs relied more on asbestos and epidemiological-related (disease control) researchers.
The Johnson & Johnson website statement said the company would appeal the July 12 decision.
“Johnson & Johnson remains confident that its products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer and intends to pursue all available appellate remedies,” the statement noted.
According to a June 9, 2017 Consumersafety.org report, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a California talc powder case that the state court did not have jurisdiction because many of the plaintiffs (575) were from out of state.
A Missouri State Appeals Court in 2017 voided a previous judgment against Johnson & Johnson which had awarded $72 million to an Alabama woman for talc exposure, deciding to reverse the claim because it did not arise from J&J activities in Missouri.
Lanier indicated the necessary plaintiff evidence presented in this case should make such a reverse on appeal unlikely. He added the other side (J&J) will start the appeals process, which will probably take over a year.
“The ball is in their (defendants') court,” Lanier said. “It could go to the Supreme Court, but I suspect it will be reviewed by the Missouri Superior Court.”
Circuit Judge Rex Burlison presided over both the 2017 $72 million award and Thursday’s award decision.
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