Will a Missouri Supreme Court ruling help J&J in its talc cases?

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is being sued nationwide for exposing users of its talc-based products, including J&J Baby Powder, to asbestos despite knowing the risk. They are accused of hiding evidence that the talc used in their products was contaminated with asbestos. Plaintiffs claim they used the products-often on themselves and their children-for daily routine hygiene, only to later develop mesothelioma or ovarian cancer.

Approximately 700 cases have been filed in St. Louis’s 22nd Circuit Court, which has a great deal of experience in asbestos-related cases. Since some of the cases involve plaintiffs who are not residents of St. Louis or Missouri, J&J appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court to have the non-resident cases dismissed.

This occurred after a St. Louis jury awarded a record $4.69-billlion to 22 plaintiffs who had sued J&J. Of those plaintiffs, only one was a resident of St. Louis.

The non-residents had been allowed to join the resident’s case through a process called “joinder.” This is when cases with similar parties and similar issues are joined, primarily for efficiency’s sake.

On Feb. 13, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in J&J’s favor. It held that allowing non-residents to enter the St. Louis court via joinder was “a clear and direct violation” of state law on how joinder is to work.

Does the ruling mean the record verdict has been overturned?

No. The Missouri Supreme Court ruling was in a separate case and does not directly affect the $4.69-billion verdict. However, J&J is likely to argue that the 21 non-resident plaintiffs were improperly joined.

Would that mean the verdict was improper? Not according to a St. Louis-based plaintiff’s attorney involved in talc litigation against J&J. In 2016, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a $38-million verdict in another product liability case despite claims that some plaintiffs had been improperly joined. The court held that any improper joinder that occurred didn’t make the trial unfair to the defendants.

It doesn’t look like plaintiff’s lawyers are giving up on joinder though. Among other things, they will argue that joining even out-of-state plaintiffs with local claims would be the most efficient way to handle the issue.

So, J&J may not be able to have the $4.69-billion verdict overturned simply by pointing to improper joinder. However, attorneys may find joining new cases more difficult than before.

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