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Rumors of Doom for Talcum Powder Lawsuits Greatly Exaggerated

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Los Angeles, CANo, to answer the question recently posed by a widely-read legal publication, the recent reversal of the $417 million California verdict does not foreshadow doom for talc cases. But last week was undeniably tough for the plaintiffs in Johnson & Johnson lawsuits.

On October 20, 2017, the Los Angeles Superior Court reversed a $417 million verdict in favor of Eva Echeverria. Three days earlier, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District reversed a $72 million verdict for the family of Jacqueline Fox who died from ovarian cancer after using J&J baby powder for more than 20 years.

Why is this not doom? The answer lies in the numbers.

One of the greatest perils for J&J is the number of talcum powder lawsuits currently pending and the variety of jurisdictions in which they pend. These are correspondingly, big advantages for talcum powder plaintiffs who claim that the prolonged use of products like Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder and Shower to Shower has caused ovarian cancer. These products were allegedly marketed specifically to African-American and Hispanic women for feminine hygiene.

In California, for example, 300 plaintiffs’ cases have been consolidated in Los Angeles Superior Court. The result in the bellwether Echeverria case, while disappointing, has no precedential value for the other pending cases, and will, in any event, go to a new trial.

About 1,000 cases are pending in Missouri. Very few have gone to trial, but even apart from the overturned Fox verdict, which is expected to be appealed, juries have granted plaintiffs sizeable awards. One was for $110 million, and another was for $55 million. Hundreds of cases remain in the pipeline.

In New Jersey, about 200 cases are pending in state court and 870 have been consolidated into multidistrict litigation in the U.S. District Court District of New Jersey. That MDL is still in the earliest stages of organization.

Last week was a hard week for talcum powder lawsuit plaintiffs, no doubt. But J&J will have to litigate or settle the cases in a lot of jurisdictions for a very long time. While the company certainly has the incentive and likely the resources to continue the battle, it is far too early to declare that the plaintiffs’ prospects are “doomed.”

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