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Supreme Court Decision Jeopardizes Talcum Powder Lawsuits


In recent years, a growing body of evidence and court rulings have confirmed a link between the chronic use of talc-containing products, notably baby powder, and ovarian cancer. Johnson & Johnson, the main U.S. supplier of talcum powder, has already faced several jury verdicts ordering it to pay millions of dollars in damages to injured women. But a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court could significantly curtail such product liability lawsuits in the future.

Supreme Court Sides With Bristol-Myers Squibb Over Plaintiffs

The Supreme Court was not directly ruling on a case involving talcum powder or Johnson & Johnson. Instead, the defendant was Bristol-Myers Squibb, which sells Plavix, a blood-thinner used to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke in high-risk cardiac patients. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against Bristol-Myers Squibb, with Plavix users alleging a number of serious and deadly side effects, including internal bleeding, ulcers, and heart attacks.

One group of eight lawsuits involved a group of nearly 700 Plavix users. The lawsuits were all filed in California state court, even though only 86 of the plaintiffs were California residents. For its part, Bristol-Myers Squibb is incorporated in Delaware and based in New York and New Jersey, although it sold more than $900 million worth of Plavix in California.

The Supreme Court was essentially asked to decide whether the non-California residents could sue a non-California company in California state court. By an vote of 8-1, the Supreme Court said the answer was “no.” The majority held the “California courts lack specific jurisdiction to entertain the nonresidents’ claims.”

Mistrial Declared in St. Louis Case

So what does this mean for talcum powder lawsuits? Well, shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling, a judge in St. Louis declared a mistrial in a pending case involving three non-Missouri residents who sued Johnson & Johnson. According to Fortune, four separate St. Louis juries have already ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay over $300 million in damages to ovarian cancer victims, and most of those plaintiffs were not Missouri residents, so the Supreme Court’s decision could put these verdicts at risk.

Indeed, the lone Supreme Court justice who dissented from the ruling in favor of Bristol-Myers Squibb said the majority’s holding would make life much more difficult for victims of defective drugs to seek justice. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said restricting out-of-state plaintiffs’ access to the courts would “make it impossible to bring a nationwide mass action in state court against defendants who are ‘at home’ in different states.” Instead, thousands of plaintiffs will have to pursue “identical” claims in potentially dozens of different states.

Sotomayor said there is “nothing unfair about subjecting a massive corporation to a suit in a State for a nationwide course of conduct that injures both forum residents and nonresidents alike.”

Are You a Tennessee Resident Injured by a Defective Drug?

Unfortunately, Sotomayor’s arguments did not prevail with her colleagues. But thankfully, the Supreme Court cannot prevent Tennessee residents from availing themselves of their own state’s courts. If you have been injured due to any kind of dangerous or defective drug or medical device, you should speak with a qualified Tennessee product liability attorney to learn about your legal options. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Knoxville or Clinton to schedule a consultation today.




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