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SCOTUS Asked to Review Landmark Missouri Talc Verdict

This week, Johnson & Johnson requested the U.S. Supreme Court review a landmark talcum powder case which resulted in the largest talc-related verdict in history. The case, originally decided in the City of St. Louis, was based on unfounded scientific claims, loosely linking baby powder use to ovarian cancer diagnoses. In November 2020, the state’s high court refused to review the case.   

As chronicled by the city’s inclusion in multiple Judicial Hellholes reports, the City of St. Louis is one of the nation’s leading litigation hot spots and currently is ranked No. 7 on ATRF’s Judicial Hellholes® list.  Loose venue rules and St. Louis judges’ reluctance to properly apply U.S. Supreme Court precedent have encouraged out-of-state plaintiffs to flock to the jurisdiction.  These “out-of-state” plaintiffs clog the city’s courts, drain court resources, and drive businesses out of the state leading to job loss. 

The case at hand, Ingham v. Johnson & Johnson, involves 22 women tragically diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The lawsuit claims exposure to asbestos allegedly found in baby powder caused cancer in each of them. Each woman, of course, had a different medical background and health outcome, yet they were joined together in one case, and ultimately, even were awarded the same amount. This allowed the plaintiffs’ lawyers to side-step important questions surrounding causation as the details of the 22 individual situations blurred during the trial. 

Because of loose evidentiary standards, the lawyers were able to present “expert” witnesses to assert their unfounded claims to a jury – experts whose testimony has been determined to not be based in science by other state courts. According to the American Cancer Society, the link ovarian cancer and baby powder is “mixed,” and there is “a very small increase in risk, if it exists.” 

Missouri’s courts further violated the defendant’s right to due process when it exercised jurisdiction in the first place. Of the plaintiffs in this case, 77% are from outside of Missouri. U.S. Supreme Court precedent requires a direct connection between a plaintiff’s claims and a defendant’s in-state conduct in a jurisdiction where a trial may be heard.  Now SCOTUS has the opportunity to rein in the activist Missouri courts and curb abusive litigation tourism.  

ATRF will continue to closely monitor this case and will provide updates as they become available.  

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