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Federal Evidentiary Hearings in Johnson & Johnson Asbestos Cancer Lawsuits

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.

According to some of the plaintiffs’ witnesses, approximately 35 peer-reviewed studies show a link between using talcum powder and developing serious forms of cancer like ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. Most of those studies show an increased risk of between 25% and 45% of developing such forms of cancer. The plaintiffs themselves have filed motions to exclude up to 18 of Johnson & Johnson’s own expert witnesses.

These types of proceedings surrounding the expert witnesses for each side are known in legal circles as Daubert standards and are used in all federal courts, requiring judges to consider the soundness of the scientific methods experts employs as well as whether an expert may be qualified to give an opinion, and whether the evidence each side wishes to present is relevant to the case at hand.

State juries have thus far handed down over $5 billion in total compensation to dozens of plaintiffs who claimed they developed mesothelioma and other forms of cancer as a result of asbestos fibers in talc-based products sold by Johnson & Johnson. Imerys Talc USA, which was named as a codefendant in many of the same cases, recently filed for bankruptcy under the weight of the pending litigation against itself and Johnson & Johnson.

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