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Johnson & Johnson now faces talcum powder lawsuits brought by more than 10,000 different individuals in the federal court system, where complaints over the risk of cancer from Baby Powder or Shower-to-Shower products are all centralized before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.
Each of the Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits raise similar allegations, claiming that Johnson & Johnson has failed to warn consumers for decades about the serious health risks associated with their talc-based product, which have been linked to the development of ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed through the federal court system, the cases are all consolidated for pretrial proceedings as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL), which is centralized before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in the District of New Jersey.
In a joint status report (PDF) submitted today, in advance of a conference on January 24, the parties report that the MDL now includes claims filed by a total of 10,023 plaintiffs nationwide. In addition, more than 2,000 additional claims are pending in various state court systems, including California, Missouri, Delaware, New Jersey, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Arizona and Pennsylvania.
While Judge Wilson is expected to determine the admissibility of general causation expert witness testimony this summer, over whether plaintiffs have sufficiently reliable evidence about the link between talcum powder and cancer to proceed to trial in the federal court system, a number of state court cases have already gone before juries nationwide in recent years, with a number resulting in multi-million dollar verdicts against Johnson & Johnson for failing to disclose the known risks associated with their products.
The largest verdict occurred in July, when a St. Louis jury awarded 22 women $4.7 billion, including punitive damages designed to punish Johnson & Johnson. In addition, a California jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $25.7 million in May 2018, and a New Jersey jury awarded $117 million to a man diagnosed with mesothelioma due to exposure from talcum powder.
At least one additional trial is currently underway in California, and a multi-plaintiff claim involving 13 different women diagnosed with ovarian cancer is expected to begin in St. Louis next month. Another trial involving claims for 24 different women is set to begin in April 2019, with third multi-plaintiff case expected to begin in August 2019.
Although Johnson & Johnson has maintained that it will continue to defend the safety of their products at trial, and is pursuing appeals in each of the prior cases that resulted in damage awards, the company will face increasing pressure to negotiate talcum powder settlements to avoid a steady stream of trials in the coming months and years.
Some analysts have suggested that the recent verdicts are a sign that juries find Johnson & Johnson’s trial defense lacking in credibility, and the company could face substantially greater liability and uncertainty with thousands of cases going before juries if they fail to establish a global settlement program in the future.