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The state court judge presiding over all talcum powder lawsuits pending in Missouri has denied a request to delay additional trials, as Johnson & Johnson attempts to appeal a number of recent verdicts that hit the company for tens of millions in damages, indicating that the next bellwether case will go forward as scheduled next month in St. Louis.
There are currently more than 2,000 Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits filed nationwide by women who allege the products left them with ovarian cancer, and most cases are pending as part of coordinated proceedings in St. Louis.
So far this year, at least three bellwether trials have gone before Missouri juries, each resulting in multi-million dollar damage awards against Johnson & Johnson over their failure to provide ovarian cancer warnings for women using talcum powder.
The most recent verdict came last month, with a jury ordering Johnson & Johnson to pay $70 million in compensatory and punitive damages to a woman left with ovarian cancer following users of using talc powder for feminine hygiene. Prior to that case, other juries awarded $72 million in damages in a bellwether trial in February 2016, and $55 million in May 2016.
While Johnson & Johnson is pursuing appeals, alleging that a number of factors should result in the verdicts being overturned, additional cases continue to move toward trial. However, the manufacturer has argued that additional bellwether trials should be stayed pending outcome of the appeals, indicating that the outcome will decrease the changes that other cases will be able to proceed.
Last week, a judge in Missouri 22nd Judicial Circuit Court for St. Louis denied Johnson & Johnson’s request, and the next talcum powder trial is expected to move forward with jury selection on January 30, 2017.
Talcum Powder Ovarian Cancer Litigation
Although talcum powder is most commonly associated with use among infants to prevent diaper rash and maintain smooth skin, the products are widely used among adult women and Johnson & Johnson has promoted such use to maintain “personal freshness.” Given the popularity of Johnson’s Baby Powder among adult women, the company introduced and marketed Shower-to-Shower body powder for this specific purpose.
Each of the lawsuits involved in the litigation raise similar allegations, claiming that Johnson & Johnson knew about the link between daily use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer, yet withheld information from consumers.
Evidence presented at prior trials has included internal company documents that suggest Johnson & Johnson has been aware of the ovarian cancer risk since the 1970s. However, even as recently as 1992, some documents indicate that the company specifically targeted sales toward adult women, without providing any warning about the potential risk of ovarian cancer.
In addition to the state court cases pending in Missouri, a growing number of complaints continue to be filed throughout the federal court system, where coordinated pretrial proceedings were established in October 2016, centralizing the talcum powder litigation before U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson in the District of New Jersey.
In those separate proceedings, Judge Wolfson has scheduled a “Science Day” for the parties to educate the court on scientific and medical issues that will come up throughout the cases late next month.
As part of the MDL proceedings, it is expected that Judge Wolfson will also schedule a series of early bellwether trials, which are designed to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the cases. Following the bellwether process, if the parties fail to reach talcum powder settlements or otherwise resolve the litigation, hundreds of individual trials may be set for trial in separate courts nationwide.