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Another setback for J&J in cancer claims related to talc products

Plaintiffs have filed over 20,000 lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, many of which claim that their talc products are contaminated with asbestos and caused ovarian cancer or mesothelioma with routine use. About 1,000 ovarian cancer claims are filed in state court in New Jersey, where J&J is headquartered. J&J has intentionally worked to transfer much of the talc cases to New Jersey, hoping for home-court advantage.

That hope was dashed to some extent in February, when a New Jersey jury awarded $750 million to a plaintiff in a tainted talc case. Now, a New Jersey appellate court has made a major ruling against J&J.

The appeals court ruled that the trial judge made a wrong ruling that affected the outcome of two cases and could affect many more. The trial judge had excluded testimony by a pair of plaintiff's experts, deciding they were not credible. But determining whether experts are credible is a job for a jury, not a judge, according to the appellate court.

Instead of deciding the expert witnesses' credibility himself, the appeals court said, he should have scrutinized their methodologies and how they came to conclude that talc caused some plaintiffs' ovarian cancers.

One plaintiffs' lawyer told Bloomberg that the ruling paves the way for many more cases to go to trial.

"We respect the court's decision and are fully prepared to defend the safety of our product in court," said a J&J spokesperson. "We remain confident that our talc is safe, asbestos free, and does not cause cancer."

Nevertheless, J&J recently pulled its talc-based Baby Powder off the market in the U.S. and Canada.

The number of contaminated talc cases is increasing

According to J&J's securities filings, it is now facing over 20,000 lawsuits over its talc-based products. Most claim that the talc used in the products is tainted by asbestos, although some claim that talc itself caused the plaintiffs' cancers. The number of cases increased by 15% over the past eight months. One Bloomberg intelligence analyst estimates that J&J may have to shell out as much as $10 billion to resolve these lawsuits.

Another defendant previously involved in most cases against J&J was Imerys Talc America, a company that mined talc used in J&J's Baby Powder. That company declared bankruptcy last year, which, under federal bankruptcy law, essentially removed it from any further involvement with the pending talc-related cases against J&J. Imerys intends to settle approximately 14,000 talc-related lawsuits by liquidating and putting the proceeds in trust for cancer victims.

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