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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal talcum powder lawsuits indicates a group of 30 cases will be selected for a bellwether discovery pool by mid-September, which will be eligible for early trial dates designed to help gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.
Johnson & Johnson currently faces nearly 20,000 Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits filed by women nationwide, each involving similar allegations that exposure to talc and asbestos particles contained in the popular products resulted in the development of ovarian cancer and other injuries.
Given common questions of fact and law presented in the talcum powder litigation, all cases brought throughout the federal court system have been centralized before Judge Freda L. Wolfson in the District of New Jersey, for coordinated discovery and pretrial rulings as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
Last month, Judge Wolfson issued a court order identifying a list of 1,000 randomly-selected talcum powder cases which were part of a pool of claims eligible for the bellwether process. Following the exchange of limited information about the claims, the parties will narrow the selection to a smaller group that is designed to be representative of other claims in the litigation.
In an order (PDF) issued last week, Judge Wolfson indicated each party should select 10 cases by September 18, and the Court will select an additional 10 cases randomly, which will result in a total of 30 claims in a Discovery Pool.
These claims will go through a detailed case-specific discovery process over the coming months, including depositions of plaintiffs and their healthcare providers, which must be completed by January 29, 2021.
In complex product liability litigation, where large numbers of plaintiffs are presenting claims involving nearly identical allegations, it is common for the court to establish a “bellwether” process, which is designed to help the parties gauge relative strengths and weaknesses of the claims.
While the outcomes of these bellwether trials are not binding on other claims, they may have a substantial impact on any talcum powder settlement negotiations Johnson & Johnson may engage in to avoid the need for thousands of individual claims to be set for trial in courts nationwide in the coming years.