Talc-ovarian cancer trials spark tort reform debate

talc justice Talc ovarian cancer trials spark tort reform debateIn a recent article about the talc-ovarian cancer trials that have taken place in St. Louis Circuit Court over the last year and half, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch addresses some of the criticism that has come against the litigation that has brought so much publicity to their city.

The large verdicts last year against Johnson and Johnson of $72 million, $55 million and $70 million drew the attention of the American Tort Reform Association, which placed St. Louis Circuit Court at the top of its annual ranking of “judicial hellholes.”

In May, a St. Louis jury awarded the largest verdict yet against Johnson and Johnson — $110.5 million, to 62-year-old Virginia woman Lois Slemp, who had used the company’s talc products for four decades prior to being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012.

One of the complaints of the tort reformers is that most of the plaintiffs pending in St. Louis are from out-of-state. The five plaintiffs who have gone to trial were from Alabama, California, South Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia. The first trial for a Missouri plaintiff is scheduled to start next month, in June. These ovarian cancer patients, most of whom are gravely or terminally ill, have sought out a venue where they can expect quick trials.

The plaintiffs have this option in Missouri because of a “joinder rule” that permits in- and out-of-state plaintiffs to join together to sue in the state.

“Generally speaking, court rules allow parties to bring claims together if they’re closely related. It’s just more efficient,” said Pauline Kim, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “Pushing against that is the question of jurisdiction — whether it’s fair to make the defendant answer suit for this particular claim in this particular forum.”

Earlier this year, in March, a jury was not able to determine that plaintiff Nora Daniels’ ovarian cancer was caused by talcum powder and they ruled in favor of Johnson and Johnson.

“The judicial hellhole crowd only wants to talk about verdicts for plaintiffs, but I can tell you from mere observation that there are more defendants’ verdicts,” said St. Louis Circuit Court spokesman Thom Gross in an email to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “You just never hear about those.” He also included data that since 2004, there has been about a 75 percent drop in civil cases tried in St. Louis, which is certainly not what the “hellhole” crowd would have people believe.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch