Talc lawsuits come to Philadelphia; Plaintiffs around the country have scored massive verdicts

By Nicholas Malfitano | Nov 15, 2018

Johnson & Johnson Talc Products  

PHILADELPHIA – Lawsuits alleging that Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder contained asbestos fibers that led female plaintiffs to develop cancer could be the latest legal trend with a track record of multimillion-dollar verdicts to make its way to the Philadelphia court system.

Several such cases have already been opened this year. In those actions, six of them are connected to the baby powder in question, which plaintiffs say longtime use of led them to develop ovarian or endometrial cancer. Those plaintiffs hail from as near as Philadelphia and in one case, as far as South Carolina.

The firms filing actions on behalf of those plaintiffs include local ones like Ross Feller Casey and Eisenberg Rothweiler Winkler Eisenberg & Jeck of Philadelphia, plus Mueller Law of Austin, Texas. 

One such case is from Vivian and Wayne Satchell of Philadelphia, who filed suit in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on Oct. 29 versus Johnson & Johnson, Imerys Talc America, Inc. (formerly known as “Luzenac America, Inc.”), Rite Aid Corporation and Walgreen Co.


Beck  

Though the Satchells are from Philadelphia, the court there has a history of attracting lawsuits to the point that more than 80% of pharmaceutical cases in the county's Complex Litigation Center have historically featured out-of-state plaintiffs.

And recent Pennsylvania decisions on jurisdiction issues have turned back arguments from companies that seek to prevent plaintiffs lawyers from being able to file suit in the courtroom of their choosing.

James M. Beck, Senior Life Sciences Policy Analyst for Reed Smith, referenced a Superior Court decision that allowed New York firefighters to sue in Philadelphia. Should this and similar rulings be allowed to stand, Philadelphia could be inviting another mass tort to join the thousands of cases over Risperdal and Xarelto.

“All it would take is for the Pennsylvania courts to continue recognizing general personal jurisdiction over foreign corporations that merely register to do business in Pennsylvania,” Beck said.

“Litigation tourists (suing over talc and many other products) will flock to Philadelphia as the only major tort hellhole available where such litigation can be aggregated.”

The Satchells and the other plaintiffs allege Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower-To-Shower products contain carcinogenic asbestos or asbestiform fibers. 

Vivian Satchell argues that the asbestos-containing products caused her contraction of ovarian cancer.

In recent months and years, carcinogenic talc lawsuits have yielded gigantic jury verdicts numbering in the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars – and in one lawsuit, the billions.

In July, St. Louis Circuit Court jurors hit Johnson & Johnson with a staggering $4.69 billion verdict, comprised of $4.14 billion in punitive damages and $550 million in compensatory damages, to be paid to 22 women who claimed the defendants’ talc caused their ovarian cancer.

That trial and judgment were the first time a court awarded damages for alleged asbestos in talc. Numerous other trials focused on allegations that talc alone caused mesothelioma. The pharmaceutical giant is challenging the verdict.

California plaintiff Eva Echeverria, who also claimed longtime use of the defendants’ talc caused her ovarian cancer, was awarded $417 million by a jury verdict in August 2017.

That award consisted of $70 million in compensatory damages and $347 million in punitive damages, but it was later overturned on appeal that October by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge.

In 2016, a Missouri jury found Johnson & Johnson liable for injuries resulting from the use of its talc powder, awarding the family of Alabama woman Jacqueline Fox $72 million. But similarly, an appellate court in Missouri threw out the verdict, deciding the case should not have been tried in St. Louis to begin with.

It found that in light of the landmark Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, the St. Louis City Circuit Court had erred when it exercised personal jurisdiction over Johnson & Johnson, because Fox’s claims did not arise out of the company's activities in Missouri.

Like California’s Echeverria, Fox used Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder for feminine hygiene purposes for decades. Fox, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014, died shortly before the trial began, in October 2015, at age 62.

Echeverria had claimed Johnson & Johnson was aware of numerous studies linking talc-based powders with ovarian cancer, but chose not to warn women.

Johnson & Johnson has stood by the efficacy and safety of its products, referring to the National Cancer Institute’s Physician Data Query Editorial Board, which wrote in April 2017: “The weight of evidence does not support an association between perineal talc exposure and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.”

A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson was not able to be reached for comment.

Thousands of similar lawsuits are awaiting trial across the country.

The defendants have yet to file a response to the litigation from the Satchells.

The Satchells are represented by Mark W. Mueller of Mueller Law in Austin, Texas, plus Nancy J. Winkler and Todd A. Schoenhaus of Eisenberg Rothweiler Winkler Eisenberg & Jeck, in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Chanda A. Miller and Katherine McBeth of Drinker Biddle & Reath, also in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas case 180700195

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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Organizations in this Story

Imerys Johnson & Johnson Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Reed Smith LLP Rite Aid Superior Court of Pennsylvania Walgreen Co.

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