On Tuesday, a New Jersey appeals court overturned a jury’s $223.8 million judgment against Johnson & Johnson in favor of four plaintiffs who contended they contracted cancer after being exposed to asbestos in the firm’s talc powder products.
The Superior Court of New Jersey’s Appellate Division determined that the trial judge in the lower court erred in allowing part of the plaintiffs’ scientific expert testimony to be presented to the jury.
Erik Haas, vice president of investigations at J&J Worldwide, said that the decision “resoundingly dismisses the ‘junk science’ presented by purported “experts” paid by the majority of the tort asbestos bar.” The business reaffirmed that its talc products are risk- and asbestos-free.
Requests for a response from the plaintiffs’ attorney were not immediately answered.
The business was ordered by the jury to pay $37.2 million in compensatory damages and $750 million in punitive damages, though California law automatically reduced those sums to $186.5 million.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court reversed the decision and mandated a fresh trial after concluding that the trial court had not performed its “gatekeeping role” of determining whether the plaintiffs’ experts’ testimony was supported by reliable scientific evidence.
The judges came to the conclusion that three experts had not adequately supported their claims that the plaintiffs’ exposure to asbestos in talc goods caused them to develop cancer by describing the data or techniques they employed to support their claims.
Jacqueline Moline, one of those specialists, is being sued separately by J&J for a 2019 report that she co-authored. The judgment made on Tuesday did not involve that study.
The action, according to Moline, who has testified for plaintiffs in more than 200 talc cancer cases, is an attempt to “intimidate” scientific experts and keep them from testifying against the firm.
More than 38,000 cases against J&J claim that its talc products, including Johnson’s baby powder, may include asbestos and that they are to blame for illnesses like ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, a type of cancer associated with asbestos exposure.
The lawsuits have a mixed success history, with notable plaintiff victories including a $2.1 billion verdict granted to 22 ovarian cancer patients. An appeals court upheld that decision, and the US Supreme Court declined to revisit it.
A $117 million verdict in the identical New Jersey appeals court as well as a $120 million verdict in New York had just been overturned in instances where J&J had previously lost.
The firm’s most recent victory follows its second failure in July to transfer tens of thousands of talc-related claims into bankruptcy court, where it sought to settle them through a proposed $8.9 billion deal. It is contesting that judgment.
Trials can now proceed after having generally been put on hold when J&J filed a bankruptcy case. A California man who was terminally sick received a $18.8 million verdict in one trial that was permitted while the bankruptcy case was active.
The cost of J&J’s talc-related judgments, settlements, and legal bills, according to the company, has amounted to nearly $4.5 billion.
The business switched from selling talc-based baby powder to cornstarch-based goods due to a rise in lawsuits and “misinformation” regarding the safety of the talc product.