On April 1, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups filed amici briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court requesting to review the Missouri jury's $2.1 billion verdict awarded to a group of 22 women who alleged Johnson & Johnson (J&J) talcum powder products for their ovarian cancer.
According to the amicus brief filed by the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Tort Reform Association and others, the consolidation of lawsuits prevented the defendants from putting a fair defense. Another group argued that the approach of consolidation by the lower court distorted the constitutional principle of specific jurisdiction.
The initial verdict favoring a group of 22 women was given in July 2018 by a state court jury. J&J appealed over the decision, following which the Missouri appeals court upheld the jury’s finding of liability but slashed the $4.69 billion damages award in June 2020.
If the justices allow J&J's petition for a review, then new constraints could be placed on juries' power to award punitive damages.
The business groups believe that the problem was the combining of several lawsuits for one trial, which puts a heavy weightage on emotional aspects of the personal injury case. They also added that the juries when presented with 22 cases would focus on things in common, which in this injury litigation was J&J's product and the disease.
The brief noted that high court's guidance is required to establish due process limitations over the use of plaintiff joinder. The brief also highlighted that the joining of several plaintiffs together for a trial created a systemic bias, strengthening the false inference of causation, and the joinder also stunted the ability of the defendant to present issues related to the individual plaintiffs.
Currently, the talcum powder giant is facing more than 25,000 Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower lawsuits, each raising similar allegations about the presence of asbestos and the risk of cancer.
Recently, J&J had also filed an Annual Report Pursuant to Section 13 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, indicating that it has set aside $3.9 billion in litigation expenses in 2020, which is primarily associated with talc-related reserves and certain settlements.