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Missouri judge upholds $110 million talc verdict

A Missouri judge has upheld the $110 million jury award to a Virginia woman who claimed that decades of daily use of Johnson & Johnson’s (NYSE: JNJ) talcum powder products caused her ovarian cancer.

After a review of post-trial evidence, Judge Rex M. Burlison of the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court has ruled that proper jurisdiction can be established in the state based on the significant role played by Union, Missouri-based PharmaTech in the processing, labeling, packaging, and distribution of Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products. The May 2017 verdict was called into question following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bristol Myers Squibb ruling, which established new, stringent jurisdictional standards for lawsuits filed by out-of-state plaintiffs.

“Upon review of the record and the standard as enunciated in Bristol Myers, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have sufficiently established that specific personal jurisdiction exists…” wrote Judge Burlison in a 12-page opinion issued Nov. 29.

During the trial, the plaintiff, Lois Slemp, alleged that more than four decades of using talc-containing feminine hygiene products, including Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, led to the development of her cancer. Initially diagnosed in 2012, Ms. Slemp endured surgery and seven months of chemotherapy to combat the disease. Due to her physical condition, she was only able to testify through an audio recording of her deposition.

After almost four weeks of testimony, the jury awarded $5.4 million in compensatory damages and $105 million in punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson and co-defendant Imerys Talc America, which mines and supplies the talc used in J&J’s products.

“This ruling confirms that even the limited evidence we’ve uncovered regarding PharmaTech is sufficient to meet the high standard set by the Supreme Court, and should allow us to affirm the earlier verdicts and move forward with additional trials in Missouri,” said Ted Meadows, co-lead counsel for Ms. Slemp and a principal at the Beasley Allen Law Firm.

In 2016, three St. Louis trials brought by other women suffering from ovarian cancer led to jury verdicts of $70 million, $72 million, and $55 million against J&J and Imerys.

“If you look at the record in each trial to date, the defendants have been very careful to hide the presence and role of PharmaTech,” said Allen Smith of the Smith Law Firm of Ridgeland, Mississippi, and co-lead counsel for Ms. Slemp. “Now that jurisdiction has been confirmed by the court, future trials will be able to more clearly show the steps J&J has taken to deceive the public and medical community of the dangers of talcum powder use for feminine hygiene.”

During the original trial, attorneys for Ms. Slemp called a number of prominent scientists and researchers who testified that more than 20 well-executed studies show a link between ovarian cancer and genital applications of talcum powder. The jury was also shown a trail of internal documents as evidence that J&J has known about those dangers for decades but has attempted to suppress and dismiss the findings.

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