A three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals is considering whether or not to dismiss a $4.7 billion talcum powder ovarian cancer verdict awarded to 22 women or their surviving loved ones nearly two years ago.
The verdict ranks among the largest ever assessed against Johnson & Johnson in a litigation that includes nearly 18,000 talcum powder lawsuits that blame Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower for causing ovarian cancer or mesothelioma. The case concluded in July 2018, after a St. Louis jury found that Johnson & Johnson had long known that the talc used to manufacture its popular body powders might contain traces of asbestos, a known carcinogen, but failed to warn consumers of this risk.
The total talcum powder verdict included $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.1 billion in punitive damages to punish Johnson & Johnson for what jurors saw as wrongful conduct.
Oral arguments for Johnson & Johnson’s appeal were heard last Friday. In seeking to have the verdict overturned, the company’s attorneys argued, among other things, that Missouri was not an appropriate venue for the majority of claims, as all but two claimants resided outside of the state. According to Law.com, plaintiff’s lawyers countered by presenting evidence that Johnson & Johnson’s talc supplier and co-defendant, Missouri-based Pharma Tech Industries, had distributed some products for the company.
Johnson & Johnson also asserted that the trial court had erred in consolidating so many talcum powder lawsuits before a single jury. But the panel of judges seemed to disagree, with one member noting that the case had a “highly attentive jury.”
“These people took their task seriously,” he said of jurors. “The court should not just assume they were overwhelmed.”
Johnson & Johnson has already successfully appealed several other Missouri talcum powder verdicts, including awards of $110 million, $72 million, $70 million, and $55 million – all on jurisdictional grounds.
However, all of those verdicts predated the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California, which limited jurisdiction in personal injury claims to those where an injury occurred or where defendants are headquartered. The previous appeals ultimately succeeded because the plaintiffs had failed to name a Missouri-based defendant.