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Articles Posted in Asbestos

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 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.

A New York City jury recently returned a substantial award in an asbestos talcum powder lawsuit brought by a woman who claims her rare and deadly form of cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos fibers in the talc-based products she used for decades. The lawsuit named pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson as the defendant and alleged that the company knew for decades about the presence of carcinogens in its talcum powder products but provided no warning.

According to the mesothelioma cancer lawsuit, filed in New York City Supreme Court, the now 66-year-old plaintiff developed cancer from using talc-based products produced by Johnson & Johnson. Jurors hearing the case had already found in favor of the plaintiff, awarding the victim and her husband $25 million in compensatory damages for the couple’s economic damages as well as their pain and suffering from the wife’s mesothelioma cancer diagnosis.

This latest award included $300 million in punitive damages, a special type of compensation juries may sometimes be allowed to hand down in situations in which plaintiffs can demonstrate that the defendants were egregiously negligent in their conduct. Punitive damages are meant as a means to send a message and deter other similarly negligent conduct and protect the public.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker recently signed into law a piece of legislation that would give workers who were exposed to deadly asbestos fibers the legal right to file civil lawsuits in court even after the workers’ compensation periods to file claims has expired. Until now, workers in Illinois had 25 years from the period of exposure to file claims for latent injuries with their employer’s workers’ compensation carrier, but the new law will give victims whose diseases do not present symptoms until after that period the chance to seek damages.

The legislation, originally introduced in the state senate under SB 1596, passed the General Assembly in a relatively short amount of time and went to the governor’s desk to be signed into law. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jay Hoffman, said the bill would allow workers diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of lung cancer often caused by exposure to asbestos, a way to be compensated if symptoms do not present themselves until after the statute of limitations to file claims has expired.

However, despite the good intentions of the law to help the worker, pro-business and insurance lobbies will likely challenge the legislation claiming companies would be in a state of perpetual liability since workers now have the right to bring injury claims in civil court. Traditionally, injured workers must bring their claims through their employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier or their state’s administrative system for dealing with denied claims.

A recent report by Reuters news appears to suggest that while pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson knew for decades about the risk of asbestos contamination in its talc-based products, the company continued to market and specifically target female minority communities. The revelations come after Johnson & Johnson settled two asbestos cancer lawsuits, one in Oklahoma and the other in California, during the middle of trial and settled another in New York just two-weeks before the start of proceedings.

According to the report, the “right place” to focus, according to a 2006 internal J&J marketing presentation, was “under-developed geographical areas with hot weather, and higher AA population,” the “AA” referring to African-Americans. Reuters also points out that Johnson & Johnson marketing executives sought to target overweight women, going as far as to request a significant increase in marketing funds over previous years to target overweight persons.

Since the 1970s, adults have been the main consumers of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products after pediatricians began to warn of the dangers to infants who inhale talc. By the mid-2000s, adults have accounted for over 90% of Baby Powder sales after Johnson & Johnson targeted its marketing efforts at a variety of demographics, including teens, the elderly, minority, and overweight females.

A New York Supreme Court judge recently handed down a significant ruling in an asbestos cancer lawsuit in favor of a man who claims his former employer caused his terminal cancer by using materials contaminated with deadly carcinogens. The case involved a now deceased victim who claimed that during his time as a roofer, he frequently used products manufactured with asbestos by CertainTeed Corporation and that this was the source of his exposure to the carcinogen which caused his ultimately fatal condition.

CertainTeed Corporation attempted to avoid liability for manufacturing the asbestos-contaminated roofing and construction materials by filing a motion for summary judgement to have the case thrown out of court. The company claimed that they had ceased manufacturing products with asbestos during the victim’s stated dates of employment in which he claimed to have used the asbestos-containing materials.

However, the New York City Supreme Court judge hearing the case noted that CertainTeed could not meet the legal standard to have the case dismissed on such grounds at it could not definitively prove that the plaintiff had not come in contact with asbestos-containing materials that had already been manufactured. In fact, the plaintiff had testified that during projects which lasted significant amounts of time, he used construction materials manufactured by CertainTeed years prior, including over 100 cans of roofing coating known to contain asbestos.

Pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson recently filed paperwork to have a Delaware federal judge consolidate thousands of talcum powder asbestos cancer lawsuits against one-time co-defendant Imerys Talc USA. If the judge were to grant the request, thousands of asbestos cancer lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson would be removed from state courts across the country where plaintiffs have accused Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier Imerys Talc USA of knowingly producing and marketing a carcinogenic product without any warning to consumers.

Imerys Talc USA, Johnson & Johnson’s long-time talc supplier, recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection under the weight of thousands of talcum powder cancer lawsuits in which it was named co-defendant with Johnson & Johnson. While Johnson & Johnson has not filed for the same protections itself, the company seeks consolidation of Imerys cases through a special bankruptcy law provision which allows creditors with significant financial ties to the talc miner to make the request to promote “expeditious resolution of claims.”

Johnson & Johnson currently faces an estimated 13,000 talcum powder asbestos cancer lawsuits across the country, with over 10,000 consolidated in before a federal judge in New Jersey for pre-trial information exchanges. Were the pharmaceutical company to prevail in its motion before the Delaware judge, Johnson & Johnson would have effectively removed almost all of its claims from state courts where juries have handed down substantial plaintiffs verdicts.

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