Talcum Powder Litigation: Status Report for Florida and Broward County
Talcum powder litigation has grown exponentially in the past several years. In 2013, a South Dakota jury reached a verdict in the first talc trial against Johnson & Johnson. It found the company negligent but did not award 60-year-old Deane Berg damages. In 2016, three trials resulted in combined verdicts exceeding $197 million. Thereafter, 2017 brought two massive verdicts against the defendants—totaling over $527 million. An astounding $4.7 billion verdict in a case involving 22 women and their families was later rendered by a Missouri jury in 2018.
More than 18,000 talcum powder cases are filed throughout the United States against Johnson & Johnson. While most of them are in the multidistrict litigation (MDL) formed in the District of New Jersey, over 2,000 of the cases are pending in state courts from coast to coast. Several dozen were filed in different Florida state courts. Talcum powder litigation involves two main types of injuries. A significant portion of plaintiffs have developed mesothelioma, but, more commonly, they were diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
The latest talcum powder trial in Florida ended on February 27, 2020, just before Florida courts were ordered to postpone all trials due the coronavirus outbreak. In that case, the Miami jury awarded Blanca Mure-Cabrera $9 million after she argued she developed mesothelioma from asbestos-tainted talc. Another mesothelioma talc trial was originally set to take place in April 2020 in Sarasota, Florida. However, plaintiff Patricia Matthey tragically died in November 2019 and the trial was continued.
The next talc trial in Florida is expected to be held in Broward County starting September 25, 2020. Alberto Casaretto contends he developed malignant pleural mesothelioma in 2017 after using Johnson & Johnson’s talc products for most of his life. The trial was set to commence in June 2020. Last month, the court entered an agreed order resetting it to September. Casaretto will be the first mesothelioma case to be tried against Johnson & Johnson in Broward County. It is currently pending before Judge Martin J. Bidwill, who oversees the county’s Asbestos Litigation Division, along with three other mesothelioma talc cases. Mr. Casaretto and his wife are represented by the law firms Kelley | Uustal and Levin Papantonio.
Twenty-one ovarian cancer talc cases are pending in Broward County, Florida. Eleven of them have been consolidated for discovery purposes before Judge Michael A. Robinson. In January of this year, Judge Robinson issued a trial order in the Deborah Bluth and Alister Alexis v. Johnson & Johnson et. al. case, setting it for trial in March 2021. This is expected to be the first ovarian cancer talc trial in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and there is no indication that it will be continued at this time.
Many of the talcum powder lawsuits filed in Florida include the mining company Imerys Talc as a defendant. Imerys was Johnson & Johnson’s sole supplier of the talc it used in its baby powder. In early 2019, Imerys crumbled due to financial pressures and filed for bankruptcy. After months of extensive negotiations, Imerys agreed to sell all the assets of its North American operation to fund a Talc Personal Injury Trust meant to compensate talc victims. The Joint Chapter 11 Plan of Reorganization filed on May 15, 2020 in the bankruptcy proceeding outlines the provisions Imerys has accepted. A hearing to address it is set for June 30. Current and future Florida plaintiffs are expected to be able to benefit from the plan should it be approved by the bankruptcy court.
Additionally, going forward, Florida plaintiffs will benefit from the recent Daubert ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson, who is overseeing the talcum powder MDL against Johnson & Johnson. On April 27, Judge Wolfson found that five scientific experts for the plaintiffs were qualified to testify and provide expert opinions to juries. The decision was rendered months after a weeklong hearing held before the MDL court. The analysis implemented by Judge Wolfson should serve as a strong persuasive tool for plaintiffs in the state court to argue there is enough evidence to allow their experts to testify.
Karina Rodrigues is a trial attorney at Kelley | Uustal. Her practice consists of catastrophic personal injury matters involving negligence, product liability, medical malpractice, road defects, pedestrian and bicycle accidents, brain injury and wrongful death.