J&J prevails in first talc appeal as judges vacate $72M verdict

Johnson & Johnson may have incidentally scored a major victory in the Supreme Court case brought by another drugmaker, Bristol-Myers Squibb. Because of a Bristol-Myers ruling this summer, J&J has escaped a $72 million verdict in its ongoing talcum powder saga, the first reversal of numerous losses that have cost the company more than $700 million.

On Tuesday, a Missouri appeals court vacated a verdict against the company in the case of Jacqueline Fox, who didn't live in Missouri but sued the drugmaker there along with dozens of other plaintiffs who alleged routine talc use caused their ovarian cancer. Fox, an Alabama resident, passed away before the trial.  

Fox's family won the case back in February 2016. It was the first loss in what has become a string of damaging talc setbacks for J&J, with the most recent verdict in California costing the company $417 million. In St. Louis, juries have awarded more than $300 million to plaintiffs in four separate verdicts. J&J did prevail in one case there.

Along the way, J&J has pledged to appeal, pointing to a BMS Supreme Court decision as reasoning that Missouri lacked jurisdiction for many of the cases. On Tuesday, a spokesperson said J&J is "pleased with the opinion," adding that the company will "continue to move forward with the appeals process."  

"In the cases involving nonresident plaintiffs who sued in the state of Missouri, we consistently argued that there was no jurisdiction and we expect the existing verdicts that we are appealing to be reversed," she said via email. 

In its Bristol-Myers decision, the Supreme Court decided that patients can’t take their pick of venues when suing drugmakers just because drug companies sell products and maintain operations around the country. Many of the talc plaintiffs sued J&J in Missouri but lived in states around the country. All told, J&J faces thousands of similar claims in Missouri and elsewhere. 

Reacting on Tuesday, Ted Meadows, an attorney for Fox and thousands of other plaintiffs, said in a statement that the "retroactive application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in BMS should have resulted in a return to the trial court for further consideration." 

Meadows said his team will "weigh additional options" for the case. He said the "evidence and science remain on the side of the victims of ovarian cancer, and in time we will prevail."