A Missouri appeals court has nearly slashed in half a $4.69 billion verdict against Johnson & Johnson in a talcum powder lawsuit after ruling a St. Louis judge did not have jurisdiction to hear claims from out-of-state plaintiffs.
On June 23, a three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District reduced the overall damages to $2.1 billion after determining St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison erred in finding J&J and its subsidiary — Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc., also known as JJCI — were subject to personal jurisdiction on claims brought by out-of-state plaintiffs.
The ruling came in the case brought against J&J by 22 women and their families who alleged the company’s talcum powder products contained microscopic asbestos fibers that caused their ovarian cancer. Six of the plaintiffs died prior to trial and were represented by their family members.
J&J has denied both that its products contain asbestos and that its talcum powder is linked to cancer, but in May, it announced that it was discontinuing North American sales of it talc-based baby powder.
In 2018, the $4.69 billion jury verdict was the top plaintiff’s win as reported by Missouri Lawyers Media.
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The panel ruled that Burlison erred in finding that JJCI was subject to personal jurisdiction on claims brought by two out-of-state plaintiffs who denied using a product that was made in Missouri and testified to using only Johnson’s Baby Powder.
Writing for the court, Judge Philip M. Hess said the record “is devoid of evidence” that JJCI engaged in any activities related to the product in Missouri beyond executing a manufacturing and supply agreement with a Missouri-based corporation. Judges Kurt S. Odenwald and Lisa P. Page agreed.
The panel also found that Burlison erred in finding J&J was subject to personal jurisdiction on the claims of all 17 out-of-state plaintiffs because they failed to plead and prove all elements of agency.
The panel reduced the actual damages against JJCI to $500 million, of which J&J is jointly and severally liable for $125 million; the punitive damages award against JJCI to $900 million; and the punitive damages award against J&J to $715,909,091.
Thomas B. Weaver of Armstrong Teasdale in St. Louis represented J&J. He declined to comment.
Eric Holland of the Holland Law Firm in St. Louis represented the plaintiffs. Holland said he and his clients “are incredibly grateful for the work that the court of appeals did.”
“This was a 6,000-page record and a two-month trial,” he said. “It was incredible that they came out with this decision in just two months since the argument and it was so thorough. Of course, we’re disappointed that two of our plaintiffs were found to not have jurisdiction, but we’re evaluating the entire opinion and we’re pleased.”
The case is Ingham et al. v. Johnson & Johnson et al., ED107476.
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