Johnson & Johnson (“J&J”) and its talc supplier, Imerys, obtained an enormous victory on Wednesday when a New Jersey appeals court reversed a $117 million verdict, arising from allegations that Stephen Lanzo’s mesothelioma resulted from the use of “asbestos-contaminated” baby powder. The appellate court ruled plaintiff’s expert testimony that non-asbestiform minerals could cause mesothelioma was inadmissible, warranting a new trial.
In its 70-page decision, the appellate court concluded that Judge Ana C. Viscomi erred in failing to apply the well-established judicial gatekeeping procedures, recently reinforced by the Supreme Court in In re Accutane Litigation (Accutane), 234 N.J. 340, 388 (2018). Specifically, the appeals court held both expert opinions failed to:
(1) acknowledge the contrary opinions of scientists and government agencies;
(2) provide evidentiary support for their opinion that non-asbestiform minerals can cause mesothelioma; and
(3) produce evidence that their theory that non-asbestiform minerals are harmful had been subject to peer-review and publication or was generally accepted in the scientific community.
J&J has long asserted that plaintiffs’ allegations in talc-based mesothelioma and ovarian cancer claims rely solely on “junk science” to prove causation. The appellate court’s decision is undoubtedly a major loss for plaintiffs as talc litigation continues to increase nationwide. While plaintiff attorneys have strategically been assimilating cosmetic talc claims within the purview of asbestos litigation, causation remains one of the most critical and contested issues. The impact of this decision will require plaintiff attorneys to develop “expert studies” proving a causal connection exists between non-asbestiform minerals and mesothelioma.
Written by Marissa Steiner