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During a status conference last week, the U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits confirmed that oral arguments will be considered in June 2019, over the admissibility of expert witness testimony on the ovarian cancer risk associated with the talcum powder products.
More than 8,000 complaints are centralized before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in the District of New Jersey, since they each raise similar allegations that women developed ovarian cancer following long-term use of talc powderw around their genitals for “feminine hygiene” purposes.
Plaintiffs claim that Johnson & Johnson has known about the potential talcum powder ovarian cancer risk for decades, yet withheld information from consumers and continued to market their products to adult women, promoting use for “personal freshness” and to mask odors.
Although a number of state court juries have already found the evidence compelling, returning several multi-million dollar damage awards for women, Johnson & Johnson continues to defend the litigation by arguing that the plaintiff’s expert witness opinions should not be admissible under the federal Daubert standards.
Prior to allowing the first federal bellwether trial to go before a jury, Judge Wolfson will rule on general causation challenges, determining whether plaintiffs have sufficiently reliable scientific evidence that talcum powder exposure causes cancer. The deadline for filing motions for Daubert challenges regarding the admissibility of general causation experts has been set for April 18, 2019.
According to minutes (PDF) from a status conference held on September 27, Judge Wolfson indicated that Daubert Motion Hearings will start on June 11, 2019, at which time she will weigh the expert testimony and decide whether trials will be held in the federal court system.
After considering similar evidence, state court judges have allowed several individual cases to proceed to trial. In July, a Missouri state jury awarded $4.7 billion to a group of 22 women with ovarian cancer, including punitive damages designed to punish Johnson & Johnson for withholding compelling evidence about the risk associated with their popular products.
Some analysts have suggested that this case and other large state court verdicts may provide troubling signals for Johnson & Johnson in the talcum powder litigation, suggesting that juries find the company’s trial defense lacking in credibility and the plaintiffs’ evidence sufficiently reliable.
Ultimately, if Judge Wolfson denies the federal Daubert challenges and Johnson & Johnson fails to negotiate talcum powder settlements for women with ovarian cancer, thousands of individual cases may be remanded back to U.S. District Courts nationwide for individual trial dates in the coming years.