Missouri Lawyers Weekly recently talked to Thomas Stewart, director of the trial advocacy program at Saint Louis University School of Law about his city’s reputation and tort reform in regard to the recent talc litigation.
“So much of this tort reform business is based on the idea that you file your case in the city of St. Louis, and the jury automatically gives you money. Of course that’s nonsense,” Stewart said. “City judges and juries analyze on a case by case basis.”
St. Louis drew the ire of tort reform groups last year, when three separate juries returned verdicts for plaintiffs claiming their ovarian cancer was linked to talcum powder use. The juries found Johnson & Johnson and, in one of the verdicts talc supplier Imerys, liable for the women’s injuries and hit the companies with nearly $200 million in combined verdicts.
However, in the most recent talc suit to be tried in St. Louis, in March, the jury evaluated the unique facts of plaintiff Nora Daniels’ situation. Ms. Daniels had been diagnosed with Stage II ovarian cancer at age 52, a particular type with a low statistical association with talc. Not only was she diagnosed with ovarian cancer but she simultaneously suffered from uterine and colon cancer as well. All three types of cancer are associated with genetic syndromes; however, according to attorney Jim Onder, who was on the plaintiff’s team, Ms. Daniels did not undergo genetic testing and this was a big issue to the jury.
“The defense basically argued that her cancer was genetic and not caused by talc,” Onder said.
The next trial, which is scheduled to begin April 10, will have its own set of facts for a new jury to consider.
Following the Daniels verdict, plaintiffs’ attorneys from Beasley Allen said, “As always, we will learn from the experience of this trial, and we are committed to carrying the fight forward with the legal claims of thousands of innocent victims whose lives have been shattered by ovarian cancer. We look forward to the upcoming trial in April, which has its own distinctive set of claims and circumstances.”
Johnson and Johnson and Imerys say that the most recent jury’s decision is “consistent with the science, research, clinical evidence and decades of studies by medical experts around the world that continue to support the safety of cosmetic talc.”
This is the same science that was presented in the previous three Missouri talc trials where Johnson and Johnson lost but – according to the American Tort Reform Association – had no chance to prevail because the venue was the number one “judicial hellhole” in need of tort reform.
“I think the judicial hellhole business is a politically motivated effort by big business and has very little to do with merits of any claim or verdict,” Stewart said of the ranking. “To me, it kind of lays bare the notion of the tort reformers that we’ve got to put a stop to these lawsuits because these city juries are out of control, but they’re only out of control when it comes back for the plaintiffs. When it comes back for the defense, no one is saying it’s out of control,” he said.