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Son of talc plaintiff shares in wrongful-death $37.78M recovery

The son of a now-deceased plaintiff in a massive verdict against Johnson & Johnson won a nearly $37.8 million share of the final judgment, according to his attorneys.

Roy J. Webb’s mother was Clora Mae Webb, whose estate was a plaintiff in a massive lawsuit by a group of women who alleged they contracted ovarian cancer from Johnson & Johnson-brand talcum powder. The suit resulted in a record-setting $4.69 billion award in 2018.

In 2020, the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District ruled that the St. Louis Circuit Court did not have jurisdiction to hear the claims from out-of-state plaintiffs, which reduced the overall damages to $2.1 billion. That ruling, however, left intact the compensatory and punitive awards for the Missouri plaintiffs, which, including post-judgment interest, totaled approximately $250 million per plaintiff.

Johnson & Johnson paid the judgment earlier this year after the Missouri Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court both declined to review the case.

Webb didn’t play a role in the case during trial. Following Clora Mae Webb’s death in 2014, her interests were represented by her daughter, Glenda North. Then North died in 2017, leaving her husband, Jackie Herbert North, to continue the suit on behalf of Clora Mae Webb’s estate.

Following the trial, Judge Rex Burlison approved the allocations of several confidential settlements that the plaintiffs had reached with a separate defendant in the case, Imerys Talc America. Roy Webb came into the case a year later when he sought to reopen that settlement, which hadn’t allocated any money to him.

Webb alleged that, as Clora Mae Webb’s son, he had a claim for wrongful death that North, the decedent’s son-in-law, did not. He also alleged that he received notice of the pending settlement by letter less than two weeks before it was approved, and that he’d been unable to attend the settlement hearing because he was incarcerated at the time.

Eric Holland of the Holland Law Firm in St. Louis, an attorney for the talc plaintiffs, said Webb had been given proper notice and that he didn’t come into the case until long after North had properly been appointed as the representative of the estate. The plaintiffs also were represented at trial by the Lanier Law Firm in Houston, Texas, and Thomas Neill of Gray, Ritter & Graham in St. Louis.

Burlison declined to reopen the settlement between North and Imerys. But Webb remained a beneficiary of the amount that his mother’s estate won at trial against Johnson & Johnson. Once the appeals were finalized and the company paid the massive sum, plus interest, Webb asked the court to apportion the judgment.

Steve Sanders of Sanders Law in Kansas City and Tom Wagstaff Jr. of Law Office of Tom Wagstaff, Jr., who represented Webb, said the parties settled at mediation. After subtracting attorneys’ fees and half of the punitive damages that went to the Tort Victim’s Compensation Fund, Webb received 40 percent of the resulting $94 million in net proceeds, or $37,784,887.

Sanders and Wagstaff said they let the litigators who took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court claim the entire amount of the attorneys’ fees they were owed, despite the existence of case law suggesting that a beneficiary in a contested allocation can’t be forced to pay the fees of lawyers who didn’t directly represent him.

“By taking that difficult issue out of the case, it took away the ‘lawyer fights’ and allowed the family to come together quickly and to amicably divide the proceeds,” Sanders said.

Wagstaff added: “Our client is happy the case was resolved in a way that allows his family to start the healing process, so that he can again be reunited with the family of his departed mother and sister.”

Burlison also approved apportionments for several other plaintiffs in the case but placed the court records under seal.

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V&S UPDATE

$37.78 million settlement

Wrongful death

Venue: St. Louis Circuit Court

Case Number/Date: 1522-CC10417-01/July 21, 2021

Judge: Rex Burlison

Caption: Ingham et al. (Roy J. Webb as beneficiary of Clora Mae Webb) v. Johnson & Johnson

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Stephen G. Sanders, Sanders Law, Kansas City; Thomas L. Wagstaff Jr., Law Office of Tom Wagstaff Jr., Overland Park, Kansas