Dec. 6, 2017 – St. Louis, Missouri — A Missouri judge decided to uphold a $110 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in a lawsuit filed by a Virginia woman who says she developed ovarian cancer after using J&J talcum powder products for feminine hygiene.
The Nov. 29 ruling opens the door for other plaintiffs from out of state to file similar claims against J&J in Missouri state court, where several juries have returned favorable verdicts for plaintiffs.
Women from across the country who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer after years of using Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products are filing lawsuits against the manufacturer. These lawsuits allege J&J has known for many years about the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer but failed to warn consumers in an effort to protect corporate profits.
If you would like to speak with a personal injury attorney about filing a claim against J&J, please contact the law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman today for a free case evaluation.
Plaintiff Diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer After Using J&J Baby Powder Products for Decades
Plaintiff Lois Slemp developed ovarian cancer in 2012 and was forced to endure grueling treatment, including surgery and seven months of chemotherapy. In the wake of her diagnosis, she filed a talcum powder lawsuit against J&J and Imerys Talc America, a company that mines talc for J&J. Slemp’s case, which went to trial earlier this year, alleges that more than four decades of using J&J’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products for feminine hygiene caused her ovarian cancer.
Over the course of the trial, the jury heard from several prominent scientists and researchers who pointed to more than 20 studies that show a link between ovarian cancer and feminine hygiene use of talcum powder. Members of the jury also saw internal company documents indicating J&J has known about the link between talc and ovarian cancer for decades but suppressed the findings. Ms. Slemp was only able to testify during the trial via an audio recording of her deposition, as she was too ill to participate.
After nearly four weeks of arguments, the jury issued verdict in the baby powder cancer case in favor of Ms. Slemp on all of her claims, including negligence, breach of implied warranty and conspiracy. The talc verdict included $5.4 million in compensatory damages and $105 million in punitive damages.
Bristol-Myers Case Looms Large Over Talcum Powder Lawsuits
Over the last two years, J&J has been on the losing side of several talcum powder lawsuits. In Missouri state courts alone, juries have returned verdicts in favor plaintiffs totaling more than $300 million.
However, a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling threatened those verdicts. In that case, pharmaceutical manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb argued that state courts should not be allowed to hear claims against entities that are not based in the state when the injuries cited in the claims did not happen within the state. The Justices ruled 8-1 in Bristol’s favor.
Under the ruling, plaintiffs filing claims from out of state must establish that there is an independent basis for the court to have specific personal jurisdiction over a defendant in the state where the claims are filed. In order to meet this requirement, plaintiffs must identify a specific link between the allegations and the state.
For talc victims filing in Missouri from out of state, the Bristol case appeared to establish stringent jurisdictional guidelines that could prove difficult to navigate. In October, the Missouri Court of Appeals overturned another multimillion-dollar verdict against J&J based on the Supreme Court’s decision in the Bristol case. The judge in that case ruled that the state court didn’t have jurisdiction over the lawsuit, which was brought by the estate of a woman who did not live in Missouri.
Judge: Missouri Company’s Involvement in Manufacture of J&J Products Satisfies Jurisdictional Requirement
In upholding Slemp’s talc verdict, Judge Rex Burlison of the 22nd Circuit Court ruled that proper jurisdiction in the case could be established in Missouri because J&J used Pharma Tech, a Missouri company, to “manufacture, mislabel and package” its talcum powder products. The previous verdict, according to Judge Burlison, fell within the jurisdictional requirements established by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Bristol case.
In the ruling, the court noted, “In order for a court to exercise specific jurisdiction over a claim, there must be an ‘affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally, [an] activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum state.”
Because the products at issue were manufactured in Missouri or at a plant in Georgia under the control of a Missouri-based company, the court found that Ms. Slemp established jurisdiction over the defendants in Missouri.
“Upon review of the record and the standard as enunciated in Bristol Myers, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have sufficiently established that specific personal jurisdiction exists…” wrote Judge Burlison in his Nov. 29 opinion.
The upheld talc verdict will now allow other out of state plaintiffs making similar allegations to continue filing claims against J&J in Missouri. In 2016, three other cases making similar allegations returned verdicts of $72 million, $70 million and $55 million.