First Multi-Plaintiff Talc Cancer Trial underway in Missouri

The first multi-plaintiff talc cancer trial is underway. A Missouri state court jury in St. Louis heard opening statements June 9, 2017 in a trial involving claims from the families of three dead women. All had, for decades, used talc-based products like Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder. The trial is the first of its kind against J&J to involve more than one dead plaintiff.

Related: Talc Powder Cancer Attorney

$300 Million in Talc-Cancer Verdicts
Overall, this is the sixth talc-related trial in St. Louis, where thousands of similar cases are pending. All previous talc cancer trials in St. Louis involved individual plaintiffs. All but one resulted in huge verdicts against J&J. The most recent trial, in May 2017, ended with a $110 million jury verdict. Three earlier verdicts resulted in juries awarding nearly $200 million.

Thousands of Talc Cancer Lawsuits against J&J
Thousands of talc cancer lawsuits have joined consolidated dockets in Missouri, California and New Jersey state courts. There is also a recently established federal multidistrict litigation court (MDL) based in New Jersey. The trial that began last week will be watched closely, as attorneys consider pushing future multi-plaintiff trials, in order to have more cases heard before a jury.

Each initial bellwether trial in any litigation can play a key role in shaping any eventual settlement for large numbers of people.

Attorneys accuse J&J of Failure to Warn
Attorneys representing the families of Shawn Blaes, 50, Angela Dawn Hershman, 46, and Eron Evans, 41, accuse J&J of continuing to sell dangerous products like Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower. The plaintiffs’ attorneys allege that J&J knew about numerous scientific studies that showed a conclusive link between talc and ovarian cancer, yet sold the product to the women anyway. According to the attorneys, this exposure occurs when talc is applied to the genitals; talc and asbestos particles then travel up the fallopian tubes into the ovaries.

J&J accused of Marketing to Minority Women
The lawsuit also charges that J&J marketed talc products specifically to African-American women, despite knowing scientific evidence showed them more susceptible to ovarian cancer than other parts of the population.

30+ Years of Talc Use
All three women used talcum powder for more than 30 years. Ms. Blaes was a Missouri resident, while Ms. Hershman and Ms. Evans lived in Virginia and Texas. Missouri’s joinder rules allow non-resident plaintiffs to file lawsuits in the state’s courts, which has made St. Louis a popular venue for mass tort cases. However, this situation could change depending on the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court case addressing out-of-state plaintiffs’ rights.

Defendants J&J and Imerys Talc America
J&J and its talc supplier and co-defendant Imerys Talc America maintain talc is not a carcinogen. Their lawyers argue that studies plaintiffs highlight are outdated and full of flawed methodology. The companies compare talc to products like alcohol or red meat. They argue that no government regulatory agency has called for a cancer warning label on talc-based products. That theme may have played a major role in J&J’s lone trial win in a talc cancer case earlier this year.

Corporate Image Trumps Safety?
An attorney for the women plaintiffs said in his opening statement Friday: “This case is about corporations placing their corporate image over the life of their customers and the safety of their customers, pure and simple.”

J&J Lawyer Responds
J&J has used several different powerhouse law firms in the talc litigation. The company’s lawyer for this trial told the jury: “Because it’s not toxic, and because it’s not a carcinogen, and because it doesn’t cause ovarian cancer, it’s not a hazard and therefore no warning is required.”

California Bellwether Talc Trial
Another upcoming bellwether talc trial is also set to begin this summer, on July 10 in California state court. That date was set by a Los Angeles judge for the first trial in his state.

Before that July trial, on June 26 the same judge will convene a 5-day hearing to determine the admissibility of expert testimony. Expert testimony on the alleged link between talc and ovarian cancer is crucial in these trials. A New Jersey state court judge (named Johnson) last fall arbitrarily ruled to exclude witnesses who have been permitted to testify for plaintiffs in Missouri. That decision ended a bellwether trial just days before it was to begin.

More Talc Cancer Trials
Besides the California hearing and trial set for the coming weeks, another multi-plaintiff talc trial is scheduled in July before St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison. He has presided all of the previous talc trials.

First Multi-Plaintiff Talc Cancer Trial underway in Missouri
The consolidated case is named Swann, et al. v. Johnson & Johnson, et al., No. 1422-CC09326-01, in Missouri’s 22nd Circuit Court in St. Louis.

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