By Natalie Holden on January 17, 2018
After several multi-million dollar verdicts in talc and ovarian cancer trials in 2016, 2017 proved to be a more interesting year, with some plaintiff verdicts and some defense verdicts. There are currently thousands of talc related claims pending across the United States. The defendants in this litigation maintain that the science does not support the claims that personal care powder products cause ovarian cancer. Though the scientific evidence supporting a causal link between ovarian cancer and baby powder is arguably sparse, several juries have sided with plaintiffs, awarding multi-million dollar verdicts. In May 2017, a St. Louis jury awarded Lois Slemp $110.5 million in compensatory damages. Then, in August of 2017, Eva Echeverria was awarded $417 million by a California jury—the largest verdict of any talc case.
Despite these large verdicts, Johnson & Johnson had some key victories. The company won two cases on appeal in October of 2017 and one case at trial in March of 2017. Notably, the large verdict for Eva Echeverria in California was overturned, with the court finding that evidence had been improperly allowed in the trial, that jurors considered factors they were not permitted to consider, and that the evidence was not sufficient to prove that Ms. Echeverria’s cancer was caused by talcum powder. Additionally, in the same month, the Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri overturned a verdict of $72 million that had been awarded to Jacqueline Fox in Estate of Fox. The verdict was overturned on procedural grounds after the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Bristol-Myers Squibb holding that each plaintiff in a multi-plaintiff case must establish personal jurisdiction over the defendant for his or her individual claim. The Court of Appeals held that specific personal jurisdiction requires a connection between the forum state and the specific claims at issue and if there is no such connection, specific jurisdiction is lacking regardless of the extent of defendant’s unconnected activities in the state. Further, in March of 2017, after a three week trial, a jury found in favor of Johnson & Johnson. In that trial, Plaintiff Valerie Swan alleged that her ovarian cancer was caused by her over 30-years of talcum powder products.
Additionally, Johnson & Johnson won a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in Jinright v. Johnson & Johnson on August 30, 2017. The motion was decided on grounds similar to Estate of Fox. The Court applied Bristol-Myers and found that because Johnson & Johnson did not purposefully avail itself in Missouri, its actions were not connected to the plaintiff’s claims and thus specific jurisdiction did not exist.