All three awards, totaling nearly $200 million, were reached in the same St. Louis state court where approximately 2,500 similar lawsuits have been filed. The complaints allege that Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower can increase the risk of ovarian cancer when applied to the genitals.
In a court filing issued in August, Johnson & Johnson argued that the litigation should be dismissed because plaintiffs’ lawyers tainted the jury pool by spending nearly $10 million on television commercials over the previous year, most of which were aired in St. Louis. J&J also contended that, because most of the plaintiffs are not from St. Louis and the company has no ties to the area, it was an improper venue for the lawsuits. The judge rejected both claims.
J&J plans to take its argument to the Missouri Court of Appeals. If the St. Louis state court is determined not to have jurisdiction, the lawsuits would have to be refiled elsewhere.
In September, a state court judge in New Jersey who is presiding over some 200 talcum powder lawsuits disqualified plaintiffs’ experts over grounds that their scientific testimony was vague and too speculative. The same judge dismissed the first two complaints before they reached trial; that decision is being appealed.
J&J tried unsuccessfully to block expert testimony in St. Louis on similar grounds, and the company is preparing to challenge on appeal.
Last week’s $70 million verdict followed jury awards of $72 million and $55 million in the same Missouri court. In May, J&J was ordered to pay $55 million in damages to a 62-year-old South Dakota woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower for decades. The company was also defeated in February, and forced to pay a $72 million verdict to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer.
J&J shareholders have so far shrugged off the three massive verdicts; however, liability could mount if the trend continues. The company, which had sales of $70 billion last year, has not reported setting aside any money to deal with the talcum powder litigation, as it has with previous claims over its antipsychotic medication Risperdal and hip replacement devices.
Some legal experts have said that J&J should continue to fight rather than consider settling the cases.
“This is not Vioxx. This is not asbestos,” said Howard Erichson, a professor at Fordham School of Law. “This is a case where the company wants to defend its brand, and is not going to be anxious to announce a big settlement that appears to concede that the product is harmful.”