New Jersey based pharmaceutical, medical and consumer goods giant Johnson & Johnson has found itself at the center of national litigation conversation over the last few years due to explosive verdicts rendered against it over allegations that its talcum powder causes ovarian cancer and asbestos-related respiratory illnesses. In 2016 and 2017, Johnson & Johnson saw four verdicts in St. Louis ovarian cancer cases alone, with verdicts rendered in favor of the female plaintiffs of approximately $55 million, $70 million, $72 million and $110 million. Perhaps most shocking, however, was a $4.69 billion verdict obtained by twenty-two (22) different women suffering from ovarian cancer. In addition to $550 million in compensatory damages, the jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.14 billion in punitive damages. Despite the trial itself exceeding six weeks, the St. Louis jurors reportedly reached their conclusion and verdict in less than one day. A Los Angeles jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a California woman $417 million in damages in 2017, including $347 million in punitive damages.

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Recently, three asbestos cases, Lege, Chabaud, and Gaddy, have produced significant verdicts in Louisiana. Interestingly, Chabaud, a case of disputed asbestosis, produced the largest reported award for an asbestos personal injury claim in Louisiana history. Below is a brief summary of each of these matters.

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The United States Supreme Court recently amended Federal Rule of Evidence Rule 807, the residual exception to the hearsay rule. These amendments significantly broaden the scope of the exception, which may lead to the admission of more hearsay statements under this rule.

Rule 807 provides for the admission of certain hearsay statements that are not admissible under the enumerated exceptions found in Rules 803 and 804. The previous version of the rule allowed for the admission of an otherwise inadmissible hearsay statement when the proponent could demonstrate that the statement was trustworthy, material, and more probative on the point for which it was offered than any other evidence the proponent could obtain through reasonable efforts, and that the admission of the statement was in the interests of justice.


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On November 26, 2019, in Eileen Riebel, et al. v. 3M Company, et al. (Case No. 2015-L-002124), Cook County Judge Clare E. McWilliams granted a premises defendant’s personal jurisdiction motion in an asbestos matter finding that a contractual relationship between an out-of-state premises defendant and a decedent’s Illinois-based employer, by itself, was not sufficient to establish specific personal jurisdiction over the out-of-state defendant and did not meet the requisite minimum contacts with the state.

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In Kardos v. Armstrong Pumps Inc. et al., 2019 PA Super 324, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently ruled that where a party is given the opportunity to cross-examine a witness who later becomes unavailable due to his death, such testimony meets the hearsay exception and is admissible evidence.

Decedent Nicholas Kardos was diagnosed with mesothelioma in January 2016. On March 10, 2016, Mr. Kardos filed a lawsuit against numerous manufacturers, suppliers, and users of asbestos products. In September 2016, Mr. Kardos executed an affidavit related to his work history and exposures to asbestos, after a site visit of a prior worksite. In October 2016, Mr. Kardos was deposed over three days, including cross-examination by defendants regarding his work history and exposures to asbestos containing products. Mr. Kardos passed away on November 3, 2016, before any party re-noticed the deposition.


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In a consolidated appeal, the Georgia Court of Appeals recently looked at the proximate cause standard for asbestos cases in Davis v. John Crane. 2019 WL 5558711 (Ga. Ct. App. Oct. 29, 2019). In so doing, the appellate court declined to extend the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Air and Liquid Systems Corp. v. Devries to cases outside of a maritime tort context. While the Davis Court is not the first to analyze the DeVries decision, it is one of the first to hold that the case is exclusively limited to maritime torts.

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Recently, a Missouri Court of Appeals vacated a trial court’s award of $110 million in an ovarian cancer talc case, Slemp v. Johnson & Johnson, ED 106190 (Mo. Ct. App. Oct. 15, 2019). This is the third talc verdict handed down by a St. Louis jury overturned on appeal based on lack of personal jurisdiction in light of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, 137 S. Ct. 1773, 198 L. Ed. 2d 395 (2017) (“BMS”).

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In August of 2019, following a seven-week bench trial, Judge Thad Balkman of Oklahoma’s Cleveland County District Court found biotech and healthcare company Johnson & Johnson responsible for sparking the state’s opioid epidemic through use of “disingenuous marketing schemes” used to drive the sale of its prescription painkillers. This ruling, which ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay the state of Oklahoma $572 million dollars in damages, resulted in the first ever successful lawsuit brought by the state against a defendant drug manufacturer stemming from a sole cause of action: public nuisance.

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Recently, the Missouri legislature passed Senate Bill 224 outlining a brand new set of discovery rules for Missouri state-court cases. These new rules represent a comprehensive revision to the existing rules and make the Missouri rules align significantly with those of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under the Missouri constitution, the statute took effect on August 28, 2019 overriding the existing rules. However, the Missouri Supreme Court cannot promulgate a new rule with less than six months’ notice, which means that the new rule would not formally be in effect before March or April of 2020. Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s Rules Committee was recently advised that the Supreme Court has not updated its website to reflect the changes made in SB 224.

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Last year, a St. Louis city jury sent shock waves across the world, awarding 22 plaintiffs nearly $5 billion in compensatory and punitive damages in a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson over claims its asbestos-contaminated talcum powder caused ovarian cancer in women who used the company’s product for years in the case of Ingham v. Johnson & Johnson, No. 1522-CC10417 (Mo. Cir. Ct. St. Louis City July 12, 2018). Prior to trial, Imerys Talc America Inc., a co-defendant supplier of talc to Johnson & Johnson, settled plaintiffs’ claims for at least $5 million.[1]

While previous ovarian cancer trials hinged on arguments that talc itself is carcinogenic, plaintiffs in Ingham argued their cancer was caused by asbestos particles mixed in with the talc. The impact of this verdict and similar previous decisions across the country has been damaging enough to prompt talc supplier Imerys Talc America Inc., to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing a lack of financial clout to defend lawsuits alleging that Imerys’ talc caused ovarian cancer or asbestos-related mesothelioma.[2]
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