Philadelphia Jury Reaches Defense Verdict in Talcum Powder Cancer Trial

As preparations continue for the first “bellwether” trials out of more than 30,000 talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuits pending in the federal court system, a Pennsylvania state court jury has cleared Johnson & Johnson of liability for failing to warn one woman about the health risks associated with its Baby Powder product.

The defense verdict was returned in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on Friday, providing the manufacturer with a rare jury victory in a lawsuit brought by Ellen Kleiner, who raised claims similar to those being pursued by women throughout the United States who developed ovarian cancer and other injuries following years of applying talcum powder for feminine hygiene purposes.

In 2018 and 2019, Johnson & Johnson was hit with a number of massive verdicts in talcum powder cancer trials that went before state-court juries, including a landmark $3.9 billion in damages awarded in Missouri to 22 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, including punitive damages intended to punish the company for withholding information about asbestos particles in Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower Powder.

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After removing most of the U.S. litigation to the federal court system, where the cases are all centralized before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in the District of New Jersey, Johnson & Johnson rested most of it’s legal defense on excluding plaintiff’s expert witness testimony under the federal Daubert standard. However, last year, Judge Wolfson rejected that argument, clearing the way for tens of thousands of individual cases to move forward toward trial.

To help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the federal litigation, Judge Wolfson has established a “bellwether” program, where a group of representative cases are being prepared for early trial dates, which may begin after April 2022.

The recent win before a Philadelphia jury comes on the heels of another defense verdict in a talc powder cancer trial that concluded last month in Illinois. However, in late August, a California jury ordered the manufacturer to pay $26.5 million in another woman’s claims that its products caused her to develop mesothelioma.

While Johnson & Johnson has maintained it intends to defend future cases at trial, unless the company establishes it can consistently prevail before juries, it will face substantial pressure to offer talcum powder settlements to women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, or else it is expected that the company will begin to face an increasing pace of trials in courts nationwide in the coming years.

Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits brought against Johnson & Johnson are currently pending in the federal court system, where the litigation is centralized for coordinated discovery and a series of trial dates that may begin after April 2022.

The lawsuits have been brought by women throughout the court system, each involving similar allegations that talc and asbestos particles in the products caused them to develop ovarian cancer and other health problems.

The company said evidence has shown its products are safe and do not contain asbestos or cause ovarian cancer. However, the company has failed to consistently establish the safety of its products at trial, and previously issued a Baby Powder recall for 33,000 bottles in October 2019, after samples tested positive for asbestos.

The recall and numerous court failures, with a few exceptions like this one, have increased the pressure on Johnson & Johnson to reach a Baby Powder asbestos settlements with women presenting claims for mesothelioma, ovarian cancer and other injuries.

Most of the U.S. talcum powder litigation is currently pending in the federal court system, where the cases are centralized before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in the District of New Jersey, as part of an MDL or multidistrict litigation.

Judge Wolfson indicated last month that the first federal talcum powder trial will begin in April 2022, which will be the first in a series of “bellwether” cases designed to help gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be admissible in the federal court system.



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