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A New Jersey federal judge held key evidentiary hearings in coordinated pretrial proceedings covering thousands of asbestos talcum powder lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson through the process of multidistrict litigation (MDL). Lawsuits involved in MDL allow both sides to conduct common discovery in cases to apply rules at trial which will apply at trial for all the individual cases, a procedure which may benefit both plaintiffs and defendants depending on the judge’s rulings.

Of particular importance to the pretrial MDL hearings in the asbestos cancer lawsuits are the expert witnesses identified by the plaintiffs to testify at trial. Those expert witnesses include biologists, physicians and epidemiologists who have concluded there is scientific evidence that talc use can cause ovarian cancer. Back in May 2019, Johnson & Johnson asked the federal judge overseeing the MDL process to exclude the opinions of 22 expert witnesses retained by the plaintiff on the grounds these individuals “they misapply scientific principles” and “engage in unsupported leaps of logic.”

Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson have said in media interviews that an exclusion of some or all of the plaintiffs’ witnesses along with a judge’s ruling there is insufficient evidence of causation to present to any jury would wipe out the majority of the cases before they could see a courtroom. On the other hand, the plaintiffs’ lawyers have asked the judge to deny Johnson & Johnson’s request, arguing their expert witnesses are qualified and rely on sound methodologies to reach their opinions.

A federal judge recently denied a request by pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson to transfer thousands of asbestos cancer lawsuits from various state courts under one single federal court. The move comes after Johnson & Johnson’s one-time co-defendant and talc supplier, Imerys Talc USA, declared bankruptcy in the face of an estimated 14,000 other asbestos cancer lawsuits filed against the pair over allegations the two produced carcinogenic talc-based products for decades.

Johnson & Johnson had asked a Delaware federal district court judge to transfer some 2,400 talcum powder asbestos cancer lawsuits to her court in the wake of co-defendant Imerys filing for federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Had Johnson & Johnson been granted the motion, the company would have been able to conduct common discovery on the asbestos cancer lawsuits under a unified jurisdiction, potentially giving the company more leverage to settle or otherwise resolve the claims.

“The judges in the states who are already handling these cases are better suited to hear the claims before them than is this Court, which would have to hear thousands of cases and apply different state laws to each,” the federal judge said. The judge’s ruling noted her federal court did not have the authority over the lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson due to the fact that the company’s co-defendant filed for bankruptcy in that court and that it failed to establish the lawsuits against it affect Imerys and the bankruptcy proceedings.

10 U.S. states and the District of Columbia recently filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force the agency to tighten rules regarding the oversight of asbestos and reduce the possible harm to the public posed by the mineral’s use. The suit is being led by the states attorneys general of California and Massachusetts, Xavier Becerra and Maura Healey, with Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia joining.

“Asbestos is a known carcinogen that kills tens of thousands of people every year, yet the administration is choosing to ignore the very serious health risks it poses,” Healey said in a statement to the press. While federal laws have regulated asbestos to the point where the substance is effectively banned from use, changes to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) passed by Congress in 2016 would create a pathway for lessening regulations.

The lawsuit comes after the plaintiffs request for the EPA to collect more data on asbestos was denied by the agency in which it determined that the EPA was already aware of all current uses of asbestos, and had the essential information needed to assess the risks. To that point, the EPA points to an April 2019 rule giving it the power to review the asbestos products that were no longer on the market before they could be sold again in the United States.

A popular young YouTube star and celebrity babysitter recently had her children’s-makeup line pulled from store shelves after testing by the Food and Drug Administration confirmed the products are contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos fibers. The FDA took to Twitter to announce, “Today, the FDA is releasing new results from its continued testing of cosmetic products for asbestos & is warning consumers to not use 2 additional products that have tested positive for asbestos & have been recalled.”

The FDA urged parents to be on the lookout for the makeup kits, which contain candy colored eyeshadow palette, two lip glosses, and nail polish, and has been on sale since March 2018 at Claire’s retail stores. The move comes just a few months after Claire’s was forced to recall other makeup products after media investigations found those makeup lines also contained asbestos and other toxic substances.

Asbestos is a deadly cancer-causing mineral once used in a variety of industrial, commercial, and military applications because of its heat-resistant properties and ability to be molded into almost any shape to fit the job. While the federal government has heavily regulated asbestos since the 1980s to the point that is still used, thousands of people suffer the after-effects of asbestos exposure every year.

Reports recently surfaced that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether or not pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson new about the risks its talc-based products posed to consumers but chose not to warn the public. The criminal probe comes as Johnson & Johnson faces thousands of lawsuits in civil courts across the country brought by plaintiffs who claim they developed various forms of cancer, including mesothelioma, from using the company’s talcum powder products.

A federal grand jury in Washington state is currently examining internal company documents related to what Johnson & Johnson knew about the presence of asbestos fibers or other carcinogens in its talcum powder products like Baby Powder and Shower to Shower. While talcum powder products make up only a small part of the company’s sales, they nonetheless have been a core brand for Johnson & Johnson for over a century.

Johnson & Johnson had disclosed to shareholders in February that the company received subpoenas from the Justice Department but those documents did not mention a grand jury had been convened nor whether the matter was of a criminal or civil nature. In response to the developments, Johnson & Johnson executives released a statement saying, “We have been fully cooperating with the previously disclosed DOJ investigation and will continue to do so. Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer, as supported by decades of independent clinical evidence.”

A proposed piece of legislation recently introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives purports to give relief to mesothelioma cancer victims who developed their disease through the course of their employment. The proposed law, House Bill 1234, would amend The Pennsylvania Occupational Disease Act (Act) to allow mesothelioma cancer victims to file for workers’ compensation claim.  The result, however, would arguably preclude mesothelioma victims common law claims against his employer making workers’ compensation the “exclusive remedy” barring the victims day in court.

As the law currently stands in the state of Pennsylvania, workers who develop an occupational disease as a result of their employment must do so within 300 weeks of their last workplace exposure or date of employment. Those who become aware of or receive their occupational disease diagnosis outside the 300-week statute of limitations are generally barred from receiving workers’ compensation benefits.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Tooey v. AK Steel Corp., 623 Pa. 60 (2013) recognized that mesothelioma victims would have no remedy under the Act and held that the exclusivity provision does not preclude a plaintiff’s common law claims.

Unfortunately for those exposed to some carcinogens, their life-changing diagnosis is not received until many years after their last exposure due to the latency period associated with their condition. This is especially true for those who suffer from mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibers in once common, everyday industrial and military applications.

A Louisiana federal judge recently denied a motion by the Ford Motor Co. which sought to throw out the asbestos cancer lawsuit, brought on behalf of the now deceased victim, alleging the automaker and others are responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. While the same judge did rule partly in favor of Ford in limiting some of the claims brought against the company, the other asbestos-related claims may proceed against Ford and other named defendants.

According to the mesothelioma cancer lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the  Eastern District of Louisiana, the victim developed peritoneal mesothelioma during his work as a mechanic and generator service technician. After filing his asbestos cancer lawsuit in a Louisiana state court in 2017, the case was removed to federal court the following year. Sadly, the victim passed away from his asbestos related cancer in 2018, leaving his surviving family to continue to action under a wrongful death claim.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs made claims against the Ford Motor Co. under Louisiana’s general negligence statute, employer liability statute, premises liability as owners of the premises where the victim worked, and product liability laws for manufacturing the asbestos laden products. In seeking to skirt liability, Ford claimed the plaintiffs were barred from recovering for any damages under the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act (LWCA) because the alleged injuries took place during the course of the victim’s employment.

June 29, 2019 – Announcing the selection of Michael Throneberry among America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators® for 2019.  Selection to America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators® is by invitation only and is reserved to identify the nation’s most exceptional trial attorneys in high value, high stakes legal matters.

To be considered for selection, an attorney must have litigated (for either plaintiff or defendant) a matter (1) with at least $2,000,000 in alleged damages at stake or (2) with the fate of a business worth at least $2,000,000 at stake. These minimum qualifications are required for initial consideration.  Thereafter, candidates are carefully screened through comprehensive Qualitative Comparative Analysis based on a broad array of criteria, including the candidate’s professional experience, litigation experience, significant case results, representative high stakes matters, peer reputation, and community impact in order to rank the candidates throughout the state.

Only the top 100 qualifying attorneys in each state will receive this honor and be selected for membership among America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators®.  With these extremely high standards for selection to America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators®, less than one-half percent (0.5%) of active attorneys in the United States will receive this honor — truly the most exclusive and elite level of attorneys in the community.

 A New York Supreme Court recently handed down an important ruling allowing a female plaintiff’s asbestos cancer lawsuit against cosmetics and pharmaceutical company Colgate-Palmolive to continue. The ruling comes after the court made a legal determination that it did in fact have jurisdiction in the case, potentially paving the way for other similar lawsuits in the state to be heard.

According to the lawsuit, filed in New York Supreme Court for New York County, the victim used talc-based products like Cashmere Bouquet manufactured and sold by Colgate-Palmolive on almost a daily basis in New York from 1979 through 1985. The lawsuit claims the plaintiff sometimes used the products more than once a day, even using so much talcum powder that the room she was in would become dusty, forcing her to sneeze.

The plaintiff claims that the Colgate-Palmolive talcum powder products she used were contaminated is carcinogenic asbestos and that she developed a serious form of lung cancer as a result of the asbestos exposure. The asbestos cancer lawsuit goes on to claim that despite knowing fully well about the potential dangers its talc-based products could pose to innocent consumers, the company decided against placing any warning labels alluding to the risks, including developing mesothelioma.

The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court recently heard arguments over how juries may apportion financial liability in asbestos cancer lawsuits as it relates to a state law passed in 2011 meant to provide clear guidance to courts in such matters. Despite the Pennsylvania Fair Share Act’s passage nearly a decade ago, Pennsylvania courts have inconsistently applied the laws as they relate to matters of strict liability, leaving it to the state’s highest court to sort out the appropriate application.

Under the Pennsylvania Fair Share Act, in matters of strict liability with multiple defendants (such as an asbestos cancer lawsuit) where juries find in favor of the plaintiff there must also be an apportionment of the liability to each negligent party, known as pro rata. Essentially, the law requires juries to prescribe a dollar amount each defendant owes separately to the plaintiff and other defendants are not responsible for the other’s apportionment of the judgement.

However, several of the state’s lower courts have inconsistently applied the 2011 version of the law as it pertains to mesothelioma cancer lawsuits, instead choosing to follow language from an earlier version of the same law. Under some courts’ interpretations, financial liability has been applied on a per capita basis, meaning each defendant pays an equal share of the damages awarded by the jury.

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