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Causation Hearings Could Affect J&J Talcum Powder Lawsuits

Thousands of plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of Shower-to-Shower and Baby Powder products, claiming that the defendants’ talcum powder products caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. Recently, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the multidistrict litigation (MDL) heard arguments from the manufacturer during a causation hearing. The outcome of the causation hearing could have serious implications for the thousands of cases pending in the MDL.

Talc powder causation hearings

The first day of the causation hearing was on Monday, July 22, 2019. They are part of the pretrial proceedings in which the defendants are challenging the expert witnesses that the plaintiffs’ counsel plans to call to the witness stand. The defendants’ argument is that all of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses ought to be disqualified, in which case they would not be allowed to testify. This is significant because it would mean that the plaintiffs’ counsel would struggle to prove a causal link between ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, and the defendants’ talcum powder products.

U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson of the District of New Jersey, who is presiding over the MDL, is continuing to evaluate whether the plaintiffs’ expert witness testimony meets the requirements of the federal Daubert standard and is fit to be presented to juries.

If Johnson & Johnson’s counsel succeeds in its challenge to the scientific reliability of the expert witness testimony, then it could prove devastating for the plaintiffs’ prospects of recovering compensation for their injuries, and pain and suffering. But if Judge Wolfson does determine that the expert witness testimony is scientifically sound and reliable, then Johnson & Johnson faces the potential for substantial jury verdicts or settlements.

Past litigation efforts against Johnson & Johnson

There are currently more than 12,500 federal lawsuits pending in the talcum powder MDL. None of those cases have been scheduled for trial dates yet. However, other talc powder cases have already been heard in state courts around the country. In 2018, a jury in Missouri returned a jaw-dropping $4.7 billion verdict against J&J in favor of 22 women who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using the company’s talc powder products.

Earlier this year, a California jury awarded about $10 million to a plaintiff who is dying of cancer. And in May, a New York jury ordered the beleaguered company to pay out $325 million to another plaintiff.

Next steps in the MDL

In multidistrict litigation, all plaintiffs retain their right to an individual trial by jury, unlike in a class-action lawsuit. If the outcome of the causation hearing is favorable for the plaintiffs, it is expected that Judge Wolfson will schedule bellwether trials. These are initial trial dates that allow all involved parties to gauge jury reactions to various evidence and testimony.

The outcome of a bellwether trial is not binding on any other lawsuit in the MDL. However, if the juries return substantial awards for the plaintiffs, it could convince the defendants to offer generous settlement arrangements in order to resolve the remaining cases.

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