Over the last 15 months, four juries in St. Louis, Missouri have delivered verdicts in talcum powder lawsuits against health care product giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) worth more than $300 million.
This month saw the largest verdict yet in the talcum powder litigation—$110.5 million to 62-year-old Lois Slemp, who alleges she developed ovarian cancer after roughly 40 years of using J&J talcum powder for feminine hygiene.
Slemp’s cancer has since spread to her liver. She was reportedly too ill to attend the trial. Hers is one of more than 2,000 state and federal talcum powder lawsuits that have been filed in courts throughout the country alleging prolonged use of baby powder products for feminine hygiene causes ovarian cancer.
Many of these pending cases will be heard in St. Louis, despite the fact that many of the plaintiffs are not from Missouri. As a matter of fact, not one of the four cases in St. Louis that delivered multi-million dollar verdicts was filed by a Missouri native (the plaintiffs were from Virginia, California, South Dakota and Alabama).
So, why then has St. Louis become the center of the talcum powder litigation?
One of the reasons St. Louis is home to so many talcum powder lawsuits is that Missouri law allows for out-of-state plaintiffs to join together and sue in the state. St. Louis courts also allow cases to reach a trial setting faster, which is something of a necessity when plaintiffs are facing terminal illnesses like ovarian cancer.
But some pro-business legislators are debating how to change the state’s current legal landscape. The Missouri talcum powder lawsuits caught the attention of the American Tort Reform Association, which dubbed St. Louis Circuit Court a “judicial hellhole.” Missouri governor, Republican Eric Greitens, has also used the moniker to advance Republican-led efforts to change Missouri’s rules allowing out-of-state plaintiffs to band together and sue in the state.
Earlier this year, Greitens signed a law establishing new requirements that allow judges to decide the reliability of testimony from expert witnesses, and a bill aimed at limiting combined claims of Missouri residents and out-of-state residents was also introduced in the Missouri Legislature. The bill didn’t pass, but it showed the resolve of the pro-business tort reform movement in the state.
Plaintiff attorneys see the “judicial hellhole” designation as playing politics without considering the merits of the Missouri talcum powder lawsuits. By using this kind of phrase, tort reformers are really trying to influence the public into believing that these are frivolous cases, which can affect how juries receive claims made by plaintiffs.
What’s Next in Talcum Powder Litigation?
The future of talc litigation will be influenced by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that concerns proper jurisdiction. The case will decide whether a non-California resident can file claims in that state against New York drug manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Meanwhile, the appeal process from the first Missouri talcum powder verdict that awarded $72 million to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer in February of last year is currently underway in Missouri Eastern District Appeals Court in St. Louis. In the appeal, J&J argues that a recent state high court decision wouldn’t have allowed the woman’s family to sue in Missouri as an out-of-state resident.
According to St. Louis Today, a verdict on the appeal isn’t expected until the Supreme Court rules in the Bristol-Myers Squibb case.
In June, another Missouri talcum powder lawsuit is scheduled to begin before St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison. The case involves the first in-state plaintiff. Michael Blaes of Webster Grove, Missouri lost his wife, Shawn, to ovarian cancer in 2011. She allegedly used J&J baby powder products for feminine hygiene for over 40 years.
Verdicts in Recent Missouri Talcum Powder Lawsuits
May 4, 2017 – Jury rules against J&J, awards $110.5 million to Lois Slemp, a Virginia woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012.
Oct. 27, 2016 – Jury awards $70 million to California woman. This talcum powder lawsuit marked the first time a jury ruled against Imerys, a talc supplier for Johnson & Johnson.
May 2, 2016 – Jury orders J&J to pay $55 million to a South Dakota woman alleging prolonged feminine hygiene use of talcum powder caused her to develop ovarian cancer. The plaintiff, Gloria Ritesund, said she used J&J baby powder products for feminine hygiene for decades.
Feb. 22, 2016 – Jury finds J&J failed to warn consumers about link between feminine use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer. The family of an Alabama woman who died of ovarian cancer was awarded $72 million.