A $223.8 million jury verdict that had been awarded to four talc plaintiffs who claimed they developed cancer because of asbestos exposure in Johnson & Johnson’s talc powder products was tossed by an appeals court in New Jersey, Reuters reported.
Nearly 40,000 lawsuits accuse J&J of selling asbestos-contaminated talcum powder to consumers and failing to warn about the risks of developing mesothelioma and ovarian cancer because of exposure to asbestos particles, which can be inhaled or accumulate in the female reproductive system when applied topically to the genital area. J&J has twice unsuccessfully attempted to resolve the litigation by settling the lawsuits through bankruptcy, most recently with a nearly $9 billion settlement plan, which was rejected in July. J&J is appealing that decision.
A three-judge panel of an appellate court in the Superior Court of New Jersey reversed the lower court’s plaintiff victory October 3 and ordered a new trial, ruling that some of the plaintiffs’ scientific expert testimony presented to jurors during the trial should have been disallowed. The jury in the lower court awarded the plaintiffs more than $37 million in compensatory damages and $750 million in punitive damages, which was subsequently reduced to $186 million under New Jersey state law.
The three-judge appellate panel determined that three expert witnesses for the plaintiffs failed to explain the facts or methods they used to support their opinions that the plaintiffs got cancer from being exposed to asbestos in talc products.
Erik Haas, J&J’s Vice President of Litigation, said in a statement per Reuters that the verdict’s dismissal "resoundingly rejects ... the 'junk science' advanced by purported 'experts' paid by the mass tort asbestos bar." The company again said that its talc products are safe and do not contain asbestos. This is in spite of at least one recorded instance where the FDA recalled a lot of J&J’s products for asbestos contamination.
One of the three experts that the three-judge panel singled out for presenting insufficient evidence is Jacqueline Moline, who has testified in more than 200 talc cancer cases on behalf of plaintiffs and is being sued by J&J. Moline has stated that the lawsuit against her by J&J is an attempt to intimidate scientific experts from testifying.
For approximately two years while the bankruptcy was being considered by the courts, a stay on talc powder litigation paused all talc trials, which have a mixed record of success. Most notably, a 2018 Missouri decision awarded 20 women with ovarian cancer more than $2 billion in damages, a verdict that stands after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the cases.
In 2018, Reuters published an investigation that revealed through internal documents that J&J was aware for decades that its talc powder was sometimes contaminated with asbestos and deliberately hid that fact from regulators and consumers.
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