NEW YORK (Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson has vowed to appeal a $ 4.7 billion verdict awarded to 22 women who claim that talcum powder contaminated with asbestos in the company's products gave them ovarian cancer, arguing that the science of plaintiffs was defective and the case should have not been heard in Missouri.
But several legal experts said that although J & J has succeeded in winning appeals from another talc In Missouri, it will face a challenging path by appealing the verdict issued on Thursday in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis.
John Beisner, attorney at Johnson & Johnson, said: "One of the most difficult things will be prioritizing what to appeal first." He described to Reuters the jurisdictional and scientific arguments of the company to annul Thursday's verdict.
In a statement responding to the verdict, J & J reiterated its position that its products never contained asbestos and were not carcinogenic.
Thursday's verdict is the largest to date derived from lawsuits alleging talc-based products such as J & J's baby powder that have caused cancer. The jury made its decision in less than a day, after five weeks of testimony from both parties.
Bets are potentially high for J & J, which faces 9,000 cases nationwide with talcum powder. The company has been successful prior to annulling important verdicts in talc cases, as well as others claiming damage to its products.
But several legal experts said that courts in Missouri, including at the appellate and supreme court level, were historically favorable to the plaintiffs and could be unresponsive to the arguments of J & J.
"J & J He has solid arguments, but unless they get to certify this case before the US Supreme Court, which are very likely, this decision will probably remain, "said Lars Noah, a law professor at the University of Florida.
He said he hoped that J & J would go through the appeals process, but eventually it would end with the resolution of the case.
Beisner said he was not aware of any interest in the agreement. "Our attention will continue to be focused on the appeals of this and other lawsuits awaiting review."
Beisner said the jurisdiction will be one of the main bases for J & J to appeal the verdict on Thursday. The majority of the 22 plaintiffs were not residents of Missouri, and said they should not have been allowed to sue Johnson & Johnson based in New Jersey in St. Louis under a recent Supreme Court decision that severely restricted the jurisdiction of the courts. state courts over non-resident injury lawsuits against out-of-state companies.
J & J took advantage of that decision to successfully overturn the earlier talc verdicts in Missouri.
Mark Lanier, the plaintiffs' attorney who won the verdict on Thursday, said he was ready for that discussion.
Lanier said his team accumulated "hundreds of pages of evidence" showing the lobbying efforts and focus groups on baby powder that J & J performed in the state. He also highlighted the claim of 15 of his non-resident customers that they were using a specific short-term talcum powder J & J manufactured by a Missouri-based contractor.
"I hope you focus your appeal in the jurisdiction because I'm sure we're going to win that," Lanier said. He said he expects the compensation for punitive damages to be cut in half during the appeal process due to a Missouri state law that limits such damages, but trusts that the verdict will be maintained in general.
The $ 4.69 billion in total damages includes $ 550 million in compensatory damages and $ 4.14 billion in punitive damages.
Elizabeth Burch, a professor of law at the University of Georgia, said that even under the Supreme Court's new guidance, women's claim that they used the specific product, if true, provided "a strong enough link to Missouri. "  At the trial, J & J had unsuccessfully tried to cast doubt on the claims of the 15 women to have used the same product that was only available for a few months, describing it as a trick designed to bypass the problem of jurisdiction. Beisner said J & J would make the same argument on appeal.
Along with the jurisdictional arguments, Beisner said the company would continue to present its case that scientific studies overwhelmingly show that the talc itself is safe and that the company's talcum-based products never contain asbestos.
"None of the plaintiffs' experts could present a valid theory and there is simply no science to support what they call asbestos in the product," said Beisner.
J & J says that decades of tests conducted by independent laboratories and agencies, including a study conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration. UU., Support your position. The company said the plaintiffs' tests showing asbestos contamination were "junk science."
But Lanier argued that it was the agencies and laboratories cited by J & J that used defective test methods that did not detect asbestos.
Noah said Missouri judges have historically applied a lower standard than the federal court for admitting scientific evidence. Last year, the state passed a law that requires its courts to adopt the federal standard, but said state courts will interpret that requirement in the coming years.
"The Missouri judges are not going to suddenly change their tone," Noah said.
Report of Tina Bellon; Edited by Anthony Lin and Leslie Adler