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Court tosses $223.8 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson in talc cancer case

On Tuesday, a New Jersey appeals court invalidated a $223.8 million settlement against Johnson & Johnson that a jury had granted to an additional four defendants who claimed to have suffered cancer due to exposure to asbestos from Johnson & Johnson's powdered talc.


The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, found that the judge in a lower court could not have approved certain scientific expert testimony presented by plaintiffs to jurors in the trial. J&J Worldwide Vice President of Litigation Erik Haas said in an announcement that the decision “resoundingly disapproves …” the ‘junk science’ pushed by alleged “experts” paid by the asbestos mass tort bar.” 

Johnson & Johnson has reiterated that its Talc products are safe and are not contaminated with asbestos. A lawyer representing the plaintiffs could not instantly respond to comments. In the trial, a jury ordered the firm to settle $37.2 million as compensatory damages and $750 million as punitive damage. Still, state law later decreased that amount to $186.5 million.

Reversing the verdict and requesting the trial to be reopened, the three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled that the court of practice had failed to carry out its “gatekeeping function” in determining if the plaintiffs’ experts ‘ evidence was based on their claims on reliable research.

In their judgment, judges concluded that the three experts had not presented the evidence or explained the methods they employed to back their claims that plaintiffs were diagnosed with cancer because they were exposed to asbestos in the talc product. Johnson & Johnson is also suing one of the specialists, Jacqueline Moline, over a study she co-authored in 2019. The study was not an issue in the decision on Tuesday.

Moline, who has sat as a witness for plaintiffs in over 200 cases involving cancer caused by talc, has claimed that the lawsuit aims to “intimidate” scientists and deter them from speaking for the corporation. Johnson & Johnson has nearly 38,000 cases claiming that its talc products, like Johnson’s baby powder, may contain asbestos and have resulted in cancers such as mesothelioma and cancer of the ovary, which is a type of cancer linked to exposure to asbestos.

The cases have a mixed track record of success, including significant victories for plaintiffs, such as the $2.1 billion verdict handed out to 22 women who have Ovarian cancer. This verdict was confirmed through an appellate court and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to consider reexamining it. Johnson & Johnson has recently secured the reversal of certain cases against it, such as the $117 million verdict of that similar New Jersey appeals court and a $120 million judgment in New York.

The company’s latest victory results from failing the second time in July, attempting to transfer hundreds of thousands of cases related to the talc to bankruptcy court in the hope of settling the issues through an $8.9 billion deal. It has filed a motion to appeal that decision.

The trials were suspended as J&J requested bankruptcy court; however, they will soon be able to restart. One trial permitted during the time that bankruptcy petitions were being considered was a $18.8 million verdict for a terminally sick California man.

J&J has stated that the value of its talc-related court verdicts, settlements, and legal fees are estimated at $4.5 billion.

The company has stopped selling baby powder containing talc in favor of cornstarch-based baby powder due to an increase in lawsuits filed and “misinformation” regarding the safety of talc-based products.

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