Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C., has been selected as recipient of one of Law360’s 2017 Practice Group of the Year awards in the Products Liability section for our work on litigation related to Johnson & Johnson talcum powder and its link to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. The group, composed of dozens of Beasley Allen attorneys and support staff, leads the litigation against Johnson & Johnson (J&J), Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc., and Imerys Talc America, Inc (Imerys).
“It is an honor to be recognized for our work on behalf of so many women who were misled for decades about the danger of J&J’s talc-based products,” said Ted Meadows, Principal and co-lead talc attorney for Beasley Allen. “An estimated 20,000 women are diagnosed each year with ovarian cancer, and more than 14,000 die. Published scientific literature states that more than 10 percent of these diagnoses and deaths are caused by genital talc use. With baby powder having been on the market for more than 100 years, that puts the affected women in the hundreds of thousands.”
Law360 launched the Practice Group of the Year award eight years ago to honor law firms behind some of the most significant national litigation wins each year. In this round of award winners, Beasley Allen was one of 80 national law firms recognized for their work. Submissions were considered for work that was conducted between Oct.1, 2016 and Oct. 1, 2017.
The Beasley Allen talc team has partnered with other law firms around the country to try six of the talc cases since February of 2016 and obtained favorable verdicts on behalf of five plaintiffs totaling more than $724 million. Three of those verdicts were awarded in the October 2016 to August 2017 time frame and totaled more than $597 million.
After securing the first two multi-million-dollar verdicts against J&J totaling $127 million, the litigation team returned to the courtroom and secured a $70.075-million verdict in October 2016 for Deborah Giannecchini. In 2012, Giannecchini was diagnosed at age 59 with Stage IV ovarian cancer. She had used J&J’s Baby Powder for feminine hygiene for more than 40 years at the time of her diagnosis. Jurors held J&J accountable, and for the first time, a jury also held Imerys (the talc mining company) accountable, issuing compensatory and punitive damages as part of the verdict.
In May 2017, their efforts yielded a fourth plaintiff verdict of $110 million for Lois Slemp, who was initially diagnosed in 2012 with ovarian cancer at 57. For decades, Slemp had used J&J’s talc-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower. She endured surgery and seven months of chemotherapy to combat the disease. At trial, Slemp had to testify through an audio recording because the cancer had returned and had spread to her liver leaving her in a weakened state and unable to travel. She testified that she made a “big mistake” in trusting J&J. The verdict had been called into question following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bristol Myers Squibb ruling, establishing new, stringent jurisdictional standards for lawsuits filed by out-of-state plaintiffs. However, in November, Judge Rex M. Burlison of the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court upheld the verdict, finding jurisdiction was proper.
The Beasley Allen team also assisted a California talc trial team last summer on behalf of a California woman, Eva Echeverria. It helped explain the link between perineal talc use and ovarian cancer during two months of pretrial and trial testimony. It helped jurors understand some of the damning scientific evidence exposing the link between genital talc use and ovarian cancer, including one of the earliest epidemiological studies released in 1982 by Dr. Daniel Cramer, head of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Epidemiology Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The study showed a 92 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer from genital talc use. An even earlier study suggested that talc particles can travel through the vagina and the fallopian tubes and become deeply embedded in the ovaries, creating a cancer risk. The team also introduced a letter from Dr. Alfred P. Wehner, written in 1997, warning the company executives that J&J’s statement that talc presents no significant risk of cancer was “outright false.” The letter was a part of Dr. Wehner’s work as a consultant for J&J since at least 1975.
Echeverria, a 63-year-old mother and grandmother, talked about missing out on her grandchild’s life as she testified. She broke down in tears saying that if she had known about the risk of cancer, she would have stopped using the product. At the close of the case, the jury returned a nearly half a billion-dollar verdict – $417 million – on behalf of the California woman. More than 80 percent of the verdict was for punitive damages.