Missouri Supreme Court Pauses Talc Lawsuit
According to a January 2019 report, the Missouri Supreme Court has agreed to pause a new trial against Johnson & Johnson®. This freezes an upcoming lawsuit in which 13 women claim that the company’s talcum powder products caused their ovarian cancer.
The pause comes only a few days before a jury was to be selected, according to the information in the report.
The paused suit was scheduled to take place in the St. Louis Circuit Court under Judge Rex Burlison, who has overseen other talc-related lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson® in recent years.
Based on the report, Johnson & Johnson® wanted the pause for a few different reasons, including:
- Their constitutional rights: The company alleges that the sheer number of plaintiffs in the lawsuit violates its right to a fair trial. According to the report, the company cited studies where larger numbers of plaintiffs caused juries to be biased against the defendant.
- Preventing confusion: The company also stated that juries would have a hard time keeping track of all 13 women’s testimonies. This would make the trial harder to navigate.
- Venue changes: In a brief to the Missouri Supreme Court, Johnson & Johnson® argued that 12 of the 13 women should be tried in different venues. According to the report, the company believes only 1 case belongs in Judge Burlison’s court.
The plaintiffs have 30 days to respond. The Missouri Supreme Court will meet to discuss Johnson & Johnson®’s claims and discuss the issue further. Currently, no timetable exists for when and how the lawsuit will continue.
A Pattern Emerges
The lawsuit that has been placed on hold is similar to previous suits against Johnson & Johnson®. According to the report, all the women claim their ovarian cancer stemmed from using Johnson & Johnson®’s talcum powder products for decades.
The women also allege that the company directly lied to the general public because the products contained cancerous materials. However, the company provided no warnings or notices about the truth surrounding their products.
Their complaints are similar to ones that led to a landmark defeat for the company in July 2018.
In that case, 22 women or their families jointly sued the company for $4.69 Billion dollars. The lawsuit took place in the same Missouri court system and was also overseen by Judge Burlison.
Johnson & Johnson® not only lost that lawsuit, but Judge Burlison denied the company’s bid to reverse the verdict in December 2018.
That case followed on the heels of personal lawsuits against the company, where juries awarded women or their families millions of dollars.
Johnson & Johnson® wants to appeal that verdict, saying that the trial had “unconstitutional implications” due to the number of plaintiffs in the suit, according to the report.
Mixed Successes in Trials
Despite these victories, lawsuits against the company have seen mixed success.
According to a December 2018 CNBC interview with Johnson & Johnson® chairman Alex Gorksy, the company has successfully defeated 35 of 40 major talc-related lawsuits since 2016 either through decision, dismissal or appeal by the company.
The company also plans to appeal the 5 remaining lawsuits, including the $4.69 Billion dollar verdict of July 2018.
Other suits are settled out of court or stall out. For example, an October 2017 lawsuit brought by the husband of a woman who died of ovarian cancer—also overseen by Judge Burlison—was paused after he denied Johnson & Johnson®’s request to change the circuit court case to a county court case. Here, there was only a single plaintiff.
However, the negative publicity stemming from the lawsuits has hurt the company’s credibility. Their stock faced issues surrounding the suits, culminating in a huge loss in December 2018.
As the talc powder suits become more of a problem for Johnson & Johnson®, more women are coming forward. According to a recent report by the New York Times, Johnson & Johnson® are currently facing almost 12,000 plaintiffs in talc-related lawsuits—10 times the amount they faced just 3 years ago.
Back in Missouri, the deciding factor will be whether or not the Missouri Supreme Court agrees with Johnson & Johnson®. If it does, it could reshape how talc-related suits are brought against the company, as large-scale suits may not be as useful.
It also remains to be seen if the company’s legal strategies can be sustained long-term—especially as more and more lawsuits are brought against them.