It’s been just over two weeks since the conclusion of the last trial in St. Louis against Johnson and Johnson over the ovarian cancer risk connected to its talc-containing products. In that trial the Missouri jury found the company and its talc provider, Imerys, to be responsible for the development of plaintiff Lois Slemp’s ovarian tumors. She had used Johnson and Johnson products such as Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower for feminine hygiene for four decades prior to being diagnosed with cancer in 2012.
Slemp’s was the fifth bellwether trial to be held in the state, where thousands of cases are pending. These bellwether cases typically predict how future cases might unfold. It was the largest of the four verdicts against Johnson and Johnson to date, with damages of $110 million. Last year, three bellwether trials resulted in verdicts of $72 million, $55 million and $70 million against Johnson and Johnson. Earlier this year, one trial came back in favor of the defendants.
The next talcum powder trial in St. Louis is already right around the corner. Scheduled for June, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the next plaintiff is expected to be widower Michael Blaes, the first Missouri resident of the five trials.
According to the Post-Dispatch, Blaes contacted Missouri attorney and friend Jim Onder after the very first talc trial in 2013 in South Dakota. His wife, Shawn M. Blaes, a competitive figure skater, coach and co-owner of a skate shop, had died of ovarian cancer in 2011 at age 50 after four decades of talcum powder use. He told Onder that he believed her long-term talc use might have caused her cancer.
Onder researched these types of claims, which were new to him, and contacted R. Allen Smith, the attorney who won the groundbreaking federal case in South Dakota, in which the jury found in favor of plaintiff Deane Berg, determining that Johnson and Johnson’s talc-containing products contributed to the development of her ovarian cancer and that the company was guilty of negligence and failure to warn, although no damages were awarded.
Onder says he suggested to Smith that St. Louis was a good location for trying cases such as these, with patients who are often sick and need to have cases tried quickly for health reasons. “We can get a trial setting faster in St. Louis,” Onder said. “I said, ‘It’s a very efficient place to do cases, so let’s do them here.’”
In fact, the most recent trial was expedited because of plaintiff Lois Slemp’s poor health. She was unable to attend the trial and jurors had to hear a recorded testimony; however, she survived to receive the largest of the verdicts yet. The second largest verdict went to Jacqueline Fox’s estate, as she died just months before her case went to trial.
Onder has served as local counsel in all five of the St. Louis trials, and the Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles law firm of Montgomery, Alabama, has served as co-counsel with R. Allen Smith in all of the trials, according to The National Law Journal.
The same team is getting ready to present a new jury with the evidence that Johnson and Johnson’s talc products are carcinogenic and that the company knew about the ovarian cancer risk, yet chose to suppress this information and refused to warn consumers about safe use of their products. In the past year and a half, four juries have tried to indicate through punitive damages that Johnson and Johnson needs to be held accountable for its corporate behavior. The world will be watching to see what this new jury makes of the facts presented in court.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The National Law Journal