After $195 million in talc verdicts, J&J strives to change court

Sun Nov 6, 2016 6:10pm EST
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By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) - After a $67.5 million jury verdict against Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N: Quote) on Oct. 27 marked its third straight trial defeat in an onslaught of lawsuits claiming its talc-based products cause ovarian cancer, the company is hoping to reverse the trend by having the cases heard in a different court.

All three awards, totaling around $195 million, were handed down in state court in St. Louis, Missouri, with the same judge presiding. Women or their families have filed 2,500 similar claims, the vast majority in the same court, which is one of several in the United States that attracts consumer lawsuits.

The plaintiffs claim studies show J&J's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products, when used in the vaginal area, increase the risk of ovarian cancer. The company counters that larger, more comprehensive studies show no such link.

In a court filing in August, J&J argued the case should be dismissed because plaintiffs’ lawyers tainted the St. Louis jury pool. The company said the other side spent almost $10 million on national and local television commercials in the previous year, with a disproportionate share of them running in St. Louis. The women's lawyers have denied J&J's claim.

The company also contended that, because most of them are not from St. Louis and the New Jersey-based company has no strong ties to the area, the cases should not have been heard there. The judge rejected both arguments.

John Beisner, one of the top lawyers representing J&J, said the company plans to make the same arguments to the Missouri Court of Appeals. If the St. Louis court is found not to have jurisdiction, the cases would have to be refiled elsewhere.

Beisner compared the St. Louis verdicts to a favorable ruling in September from a state court judge in New Jersey. That judge, who is presiding over some 200 talc cases, disqualified the plaintiffs' experts on the grounds that their scientific testimony was too speculative.

In the same decision, he dismissed the first two cases set for trial and the ruling is being appealed.   Continued...

A bottle of Johnson and Johnson Baby Powder is seen in a photo illustration taken in New York, February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/Illustration/File Photo