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Johnson & Johnson asks High Court to set aside $2B talc decision


WASHINGTON – Johnson & Johnson is asking for a Supreme Court review of a $2 billion ruling in favor of women who claim they have had ovarian cancer from using the company’s talc products.

The case has a series of high-profile lawyers, in some unusual alliances, including former independent attorney Kenneth Starr, who is representing the women suing Johnson & Johnson. The nation’s largest business conglomerates are backing the company, and a father of justice also appears due to his long association with the cosmetics and personal care products business conglomerate.

The court is likely to say at the earliest on Tuesday whether it will attend.

Basically, Johnson & Johnson argues that the company did not get a fair setback in a lawsuit in state court in Missouri, resulting in a $4.7 billion ruling in favor of 22 women who used talc products and had ovarian cancer. developed cancer.

A state appeals court cut more than half the money from the verdict and terminated the two plaintiffs, but otherwise upheld the result in a trial in which lawyers for both sides presented expert testimony about whether the company’s talc products were sold. Contains asbestos and asbestos-laced talc can cause ovarian cancer.

The jury found for women on both points, after which Judge Rex M. Burlison wrote that the evidence in the trial showed “particularly reprehensible conduct on the part of the defendants”.

The evidence, Burlison wrote, included that the company was aware that products aimed at mothers and children contained asbestos, knew about the potential harm and “misrepresented the safety of these products for decades.”

Nine women have died of ovarian cancer, plaintiffs’ lawyers say

Johnson & Johnson denies that its talc products cause cancer, and it upheld the decision in the Missouri trial despite “decades of independent scientific evaluation confirming that Johnson’s baby powder is safe, not contaminated with asbestos and carcinogenic.” does not cause.” The company is also the manufacturer of one of three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States.

Health concerns about talcum powder have prompted thousands of American lawsuits by women who claim that asbestos in the powder caused their cancer. Talc is a mineral in composition similar to asbestos, which is thought to cause cancer, and they are sometimes derived from the same mines. The cosmetics industry agreed in 1976 to ensure that its talc products did not contain detectable amounts of asbestos.

Last year, the largest analysis to look at this question in a US government-led analysis of 250,000 women found no strong evidence linking baby powder to ovarian cancer, though the study’s lead author called the results “very Unclear” said.

The findings were called “overall reassuring” in an editorial published with the study in January 2020 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The editorial noted that the study was not definitive, but more conclusive research is probably not possible because of the decreasing number of women using the powder for personal hygiene.

A few months later, the company announced that it would stop selling its iconic talc-based Johnson Baby Powder in the US and Canada, citing declining demand due to misinformation about health concerns.

The disputed relationship between cancer and talaq is not actually a part of the High Court case. Instead, the company said it should not be forced to defend itself in a lawsuit against claims from women from 12 states, of different backgrounds and different histories of using talc-containing Johnson & Johnson products. with.

$1.6 billion in punitive damages is out of line and should be reduced, the company argued in a brief, written by Washington attorney Neil Katyal, which aligns with progressive causes and also represents corporate clients. is. Katyal, who was the acting top Supreme Court attorney for some time in the Obama administration, declined an on-the-record interview.

The US Chamber of Commerce and trade associations for manufacturers, insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical industry are among the trade organizations supporting Johnson & Johnson’s appeal.

Tiger Joyce, president of the American Tort Reform Association, described how long it took the trial judge to read the jury’s instructions, an indication of how unfair the trial was to Johnson & Johnson.

“When a defendant is facing a case where it takes more than five hours for the judge to read the jury’s directions, you just have to ask yourself, what are we doing here,” Joyce said. Whose group generally supports the limitation of liability lawsuits. .

Star said in an interview with the Associated Press that none of Johnson & Johnson’s legal arguments are worth the court’s time. “As the jury found and as concluded by each judge reviewing the six-week trial record, Johnson & Johnson’s decades-long conduct was reprehensible,” Starr said.

In addition to Starr, other members of the women’s legal team are former Attorney General John Ashcroft and Washington attorneys David Frederick and Tom Goldstein, who are frequent attorneys before the Supreme Court.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh worked for the star when he investigated the relationship between President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, which led to Clinton’s impeachment.

Another name that appears in some documents in this case is E. Edward Kavanaugh, longtime President of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association and the father of justice.

Kavanaugh’s group struggled with efforts to list talc as a carcinogen or to put a warning label on talc products. Kavanaugh has since retired and the group is now called the Personal Care Products Council.

Ethicists contacted by the AP said they had not seen anything that would guarantee justice to be separated from the case.

Already, a justice will almost certainly not participate. Justice Samuel Alito reported last year that he owned $15,000 to $50,000 in Johnson & Johnson stock. Federal law prohibits judges from sitting in cases in which they have financial interests.

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