A New Jersey court has has thrown out a nearly $224 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson that was awarded to four people who alleged in a lawsuit that they got cancer from using the company’s talcum-powder products.
The three-judge appeals court ordered a new trial after ruling that expert testimony presented in a lower court on behalf of the plaintiffs was faulty. J&J was ordered in 2019 to pay New Jersey residents Douglas Barden, David Etheridge, D’Angela McNeill-George and William Ronning $37.3 million, along with $186.5 million in punitive damages.
The company appealed that decision the following year, arguing that three experts selected to testify during the trial — William Longo, Jacqueline Moline and James Webber — presented flawed or incomplete information. Moline is an occupational medicine doctor at North Shore University Hospital in Long Island, New York. Longo is a materials scientist in Georgia, CEO of Micro Analytical Laboratories and a former member of the National Asbestos Council. Webber is an independent environmental health scientist and consultant from Oregon who has done research on asbestos contamination in air and water.
Moline never concluded that using J&J’s talc led to cancer prior to the J&J trial, while Longo did not precisely determine how many times the plaintiffs had used the powder, J&J attorneys argued. Webber also testified that certain minerals found in the baby powder, known as cleavage fragments, can cause cancer, but he based that conclusion on an outdated study from 1980 that needed further research, J&J further alleged.
The appeals court agreed with the company’s argument that the lower court should not have allowed the three experts’ testimony.
“In sum, the trial court erred when it admitted Webber’s and Moline’s testimony about cleavage fragments, and Longo’s extrapolation testimony,” the judges wrote in their. “These errors, taken singularly or collectively, were harmful and require the reversal of the jury verdict.”
Thousands of lawsuits
J&J has spent years battling — and sometimes losing — thousands ofalleging that asbestos in J&J’s talcum powder caused cancer. In 2019, a Missouri court J&J to pay $4.7 billion in damages to women who alleged the product gave them cancer. That amount was later reduced to $2.1 billion.
Johnson & Johnson maintains that the baby powder —— is safe and doesn’t cause cancer. A U.S. government-led of 250,000 women, the largest such study to look at the question, found no strong evidence linking baby powder with ovarian cancer, although the lead author of the analysis called the results “very ambiguous.”
In 2020, the company recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder after the Food and Drum Administration found a small amount of asbestos in a bottle purchased online. Later that year, J&J said thatof baby powder conducted by two laboratories hired by the company found no asbestos.
Erik Haas, J&J’s worldwide vice president of litigation, said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch that the appellate court’s decision “resoundingly rejects, again, the junk science advanced by purported experts paid by the mass tort asbestos bar.”
“This marks the third time in three years that an appellate court has overturned outsized verdicts that asbestos lawyers secured by confusing and misleading juries with unscientific opinions touting baseless liability theories,” Haas said. “The decision appropriately strikes a blow to the heart of the asbestos bar’s improper strategy and its meritless talc litigation.”
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Etheridge, Barden and Ronning have died since filing their suit, and their family members have continued the suits.