BATON ROUGE — Jim Harris thinks the nearly $5 billion plaintiff award in the latest Johnson & Johnson asbestos trial says more about the jurisdiction where the verdict was rendered than it does about the strength of the evidence presented by the plaintiffs.
"This was a rather amazing verdict since there is no science showing a relationship between talc and cancer,” Harris, executive director of the Louisiana Coalition for Common Sense, told the Louisiana Record. “This verdict in St. Louis reaffirms the judicial hellhole designation that St. Louis has received from the American Tort Reform Association. Unfortunately, Louisiana is also on that hellhole list and, like St. Louis, is thought of as a very difficult jurisdiction."
In all, the St. Louis City Circuit Court awarded $4.14 billion in punitive damages to the 22 women who claimed they developed ovarian cancer from using Johnson’s talc power and another $550 million in compensatory damages, totaling the largest verdict the New Jersey-based company has been ordered to pay out of the more than 9,000 cases it has recently faced.
The jury deliberated for roughly eight hours before returning with a verdict that doled out individual awards of $25 million each to plaintiffs Krystal Kim, Sheila Brooks, Toni Roberts and Laine Goldman, plus $12.5 million to Stephanie Martin.
Of the 22 women who filed suit, six died before the trial commenced on June 6 in the courtroom of Circuit Judge Rex Burlson, who has also presided over several other multi-million dollar jury verdicts against the company.
Harris predicted that the verdict almost guarantees an even more litigious future for a company that has produced baby powder products since the early 1900s.
"Unfortunately, this will spark many other lawsuits going to court," said Harris, adding that he’s unsure at this point how successful Johnson & Johnson might be with its plan to appeal the verdict.
The ruling marks the first time any court has awarded damages for alleged asbestos in talc. Several other recent trials have dealt with claims talc alone caused cancer or mesothelioma.
The plaintiffs were represented by attorney Mark Lanier of the Houston-based Lanier Firm, while Johnson & Johnson was represented by attorneys Peter Bicks, Morton Dubin and Lisa Simpson of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.