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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The Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Sullivan v. A. W. Chesterton, Inc., et al., No. 18-3622 (E.D. Pa. June 6, 2019), grappled with the constitutionality of the Pennsylvania statutes, 15 Pa.C.S. § 411 and 42 Pa.C.S. § 5301, (the “PA Statutory Scheme”) requiring out-of-state businesses to register in the state, which in turn functions as consent to general jurisdiction. This issue became salient only in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117 (2014) (holding corporation is “at home” only where it is incorporated or maintains its principal place of business). The Eastern District held that the PA Statutory Scheme requiring out-of-state corporations to register before they conduct business in the state and thereby consent to general jurisdiction in Pennsylvania offends the Due Process Clause and is unconstitutional.
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In Thomas-Fish v. Aetna Steel Prod. Corp., plaintiff Helen Thomas-Fish alleged her husband Robert Fish had died from mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos through his work at a shipbuilding yard in New Jersey in 1960. No. 17-CV-10648 RMB/KMW, 2019 WL 2354555, at *1 (D.N.J. June 4, 2019).  Plaintiff brought a wrongful death claim against various defendants including Sonic Industries (“Sonic”), an alleged joiner contractor that installed asbestos-containing paneling during shipbuilding. Sonic was incorporated in California in 1966, six years after the alleged exposure in this case. In addition, Sonic maintained its principal place of business in Connecticut. Accordingly, Sonic was not subject to general jurisdiction in the state of New Jersey. Instead, Plaintiff asserted that Sonic was subject to specific jurisdiction in New Jersey through an unnamed predecessor entity under a successor liability theory. Defendant Sonic filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2).

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On September 5, 2018, the Appellate Court for the Fourth District of Illinois introduced heightened standards for plaintiffs to establish duty and causation in asbestos litigation through its reversal of a McLean County trial court’s decision denying a defendant’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. McKinney v. Hobart Bros. Co., 2018 IL App (4th) 170333, appeal denied, 116 N.E.3d 948 (Ill. 2019). In McKinney, the plaintiff sued Defendant Hobart Brothers Company (“Hobart”) alleging his eight-month workplace exposure to Hobart’s asbestos-containing welding rods in 1962 and 1963 caused his mesothelioma. The welding rods at issue allegedly contained asbestos fibers that were encapsulated. The plaintiff also alleged exposure to asbestos-containing automotive products that occurred during the course of his forty-year mechanic career. In reversing the trial judgment, the McKinney Court addressed three issues of expert testimony admissibility under Rule 213 and ultimately tightened the reins on exposure claims involving encapsulated asbestos fibers by requiring industry knowledge of harm for the manufacturer’s product at issue before imposing a duty and ushering in the “substantial factor” test for causation.
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The Illinois Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in Jones v. Pneumo Abex LLC, 2018 IL App (5th) 160239, where Plaintiffs, John and Deborah Jones, sued brake lining company Pneumo Abex (“Abex”) and glass bottle maker Owens-Illinois (“O-I”) for injuries John Jones allegedly suffered due to asbestos exposure during his construction career. Although Jones never worked for Defendants and never used or was exposed to any product of Defendants, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants entered into a civil conspiracy with the asbestos industry at large including Johns-Manville, an insulation and roofing materials manufacturer, to conceal the harmful health effects of asbestos exposure. In their complaint, Plaintiffs relied solely on circumstantial evidence to support their allegations of a conspiratorial agreement, including. (1) an Abex funded study on asbestos dust with Saranac Laboratory (the “Saranac report”) where a mice study revealing tumors was omitted from the published report; (2) a 1953 Sales Agreement between O-I and Owens Corning Fiberglas Corp. (“OCF”) for the sale of Kaylo insulation; (3) “non-toxic” ads that were issued by O-I and later by OCF; (4) O-I’s sharing of two asbestos health articles from 1941, (5) a unilaterally sponsored O-I study of Kaylo insulation involving exposure to lab animals; and (6) overlapping directors and stock ownership of O-I in OCF.
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Shortly after the inauguration of Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, legislation was introduced in both the Illinois House and Senate to essentially override the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in Folta v. Ferro Engineering, 2015 IL 118070 (2015). In Folta, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the Worker’s Compensation Act and Occupational Diseases Act was the exclusive remedy to Illinois employees who suffered latent injuries such as mesothelioma.
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In its decision Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court held, under maritime law, that manufacturers can be held liable for injuries caused by asbestos-containing parts manufactured and added to their products by third parties. The case, Air & Liquid Systems Corp. v. DeVries, involved Navy sailors who were allegedly exposed to asbestos that was used with certain equipment on the Navy vessels to which they were assigned. The sailors claimed this exposure ultimately caused their cancer. The sailors brought suit against the manufacturers of equipment such as pumps, blowers, and turbines, alleging that the manufacturers were negligent in failing to warn them about the dangers of asbestos.

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Toxic Tort Monitor

February 20, 2019 | Editor: Jen Dlugosz | Assistant Editor: Natalie Holden
New Developments
Missouri’s Game-Changing Opinion on Venue in Multi-Plaintiff Tort Litigation
By Dominique Savinelli and Tim Larkin

On February 13, 2019, the Supreme Court of Missouri dealt a significant blow against improper forum shopping by plaintiffs in mass tort litigation. The Johnson &

On Monday, the Missouri Supreme Court issued an order sustaining Johnson & Johnson’s (“J&J”) last-minute Petition for writ of prohibition to stay the trial in Vickie Forrest et al. v. Johnson & Johnson et al., Cause No.1522-CC00419-01, pending in the in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri.  Although the Supreme Court sets forth no reasoning for the stay in its one paragraph en banc order, the trial, which was set to start on January 22, 2019, will not take place until the Court weighs in on J&J’s argument that conducting a single trial of multiple claims from multiple Plaintiffs – most of whom had potentially been improperly joined – is unfair to the defendants and even potentially in violation of J&J’s constitutional due process rights. State ex rel. Johnson & Johnson et al. v. The Honorable Rex M. Burlison, Cause No. SC97637. The Forrest case is one of an onslaught of talc cancer cases brought in the St. Louis City Circuit Court on behalf of multiple plaintiffs against J&J.  Forrest, and twelve other women, are alleging that their different subtypes of ovarian or gynecological cancers were caused by their use of J&J’s talcum powder products, which allegedly contained asbestos.
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