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Lawyers for Johnson & Johnson and plaintiffs pursuing talcum powder lawsuits in the federal court system will meet today with the U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation, which involves more than 10,000 cases brought by women throughout the U.S. who allege they developed ovarian cancer, mesothelioma or other injuries following years of exposure to Johnson’s Baby Powder or other products.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, all talcum powder cancer cases are 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 advance of a case management conference scheduled for today, the parties submitted a joint report (PDF) that outlined the status of the talcum powder litigation, and an agenda for topics that will be addressed with the court, including the status of expert discovery, challenges to the admissibility of certain scientific evidence, pending motions and the growing number of complaints filed in state and federal courts nationwide.
According to the report, there are currently at least 10,556 Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits filed in the federal court system, each raising similar allegations that Johnson & Johnson failed to warn consumers for decades about the serious health risks associated with their talc-based products, which have been linked to the development of ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. In addition, there are about 2,400 additional cases filed in state courts nationwide.
While Judge Wolfson is expected to rule on Daubert challenges to the admissibility of expert witness testimony this summer before setting the first federal cases for trial, a number of trials have already gone before juries at the state court level, with several resulting in multi-million verdicts in favor of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer or mesothelioma.
While Johnson & Johnson obtained a defense verdict recently in one California trial, last month another case resulted in a $29 million verdict for failing to warn about the risk of mesothelioma from talcum powder. In addition, last year a Missouri jury returned a landmark $4.7 billion verdict for 22 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Johnson & Johnson is appealing each of the prior verdicts, and previously indicated that it intends to continue to fight the cases at trial. However, it was recently reported that the company reached settlements to resolve at least three talcum powder cancer claims that were either in the middle of trial or set to begin in the coming weeks.
If Judge Wolfson determines that plaintiffs have sufficiently reliable evidence about the link between talcum powder and cancer to proceed to trial under federal rules, it is expected that a small group of “bellwether” cases will be set for trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. However, unless is able to negotiate additional talcum powder settlements or otherwise resolve the litigation, it is expected that large numbers of cases will eventually be remanded back to different federal district courts for individual trial dates in the future.