A St. Louis judge has preserved the $110M jury verdict rendered in a talcum powder ovarian cancer trial.
By Laurence Banville
On Wednesday, November 29, 2017, a Missouri judge ruled that the State court in St. Louis had jurisdiction to hear a multi-plaintiff lawsuit in which 59 women accuse Johnson & Johnson of concealing the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Only two of the women, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, are from Missouri.
Missouri Jurisdiction Affirmed For Talc LawsuitThe ruling from Judge Rex Burlison upholds the $110 million verdict rendered by a St. Louis jury in the case of Lois Slemp, a woman from Virginia who claims she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after years of talcum powder use. Slemp is one of the 59 plaintiffs whose claims against Johnson & Johnson are joined in a multi-plaintiff case filed in the Missouri State court.
Plaintiffs' attorneys argue that Missouri is an appropriate jurisdiction to hear the claims because Johnson & Johnson, a conglomerate based in New Jersey, contracts with a company called PharmaTech to label, package and distribute its talc-based products. PharmaTech has a distribution center in Union, Missouri.
Attorneys Point To Role Of PharmaTechWhile lawyers for J&J urged the Court to throw the cases out, Judge Burlison considered the PharmaTech-connection sufficient to establish jurisdiction. "The court finds that plaintiff presented substantial evidence from which the jury could find in her favor on her claims of conspiracy, implied warranty, negligence and punitive damages," the Judge wrote in his opinion.
Despite its significant role in the packaging and distribution of J&J's talc powders, PharmaTech hasn't received as much attention as Imerys Talc, the company's primary talc supplier. That was intentional, says plaintiffs' attorney Allen Smith, who spoke with Street Insider. "If you look at the record in each trial to date," Smith said, "the defendants have been very careful to hide the presence and role of PharmaTech."
Smith is hopeful that Judge Burlison's most recent ruling will make the road easier for other plaintiffs. "Now that jurisdiction has been confirmed by the court," the lawyer continued, "future trials will be able to more clearly show the steps J&J has taken to deceive the public and medical community of the dangers of talcum powder use for feminine hygiene."
BMS Decision Rocks Defective Product LitigationIn his order, Judge Burlison compared Slemp's case to a second talcum powder lawsuit, which resulted initially in a $72 million verdict for the plaintiff, a woman, now deceased, named Jacqueline Fox. That outcome was reversed in October by a Missouri appellate court in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb.
But the case before him was different, Judge Burlison wrote, because "there is evidence that defendants' conduct giving rise to plaintiff's claims occurred in Missouri."
Johnson & Johnson is already preparing to fight Judge Burlison's ruling with an appeal. "The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Bristol-Myers Squibb case and the prior ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals in the Fox case makes clear that this court does not have jurisdiction and the Slemp case should be dismissed," a company spokesperson said in a statement.