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June 7, 2021 – On June 1, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Johnson & Johnson meant to reverse a $2 billion jury award given to the ovarian cancer victims claiming that the company’s talc-based baby powder was contaminated with asbestos was the cause of their cancer.  Not to be mistaken with the Court finding in favor of the plaintiffs, the Justices rejected Johnson & Johnson’s petition for a writ of certiorari or a review of the lower court’s decision.  Two Justices, Brett Kavanaugh, and Samuel Alito were unable to be a part of the decision due to connections in the case that could cause a conflict of interest.  By declining to hear the appeal, the Supreme Court allowed the current judgment to stand.

The case Johnson & Johnson was looking to appeal was Johnson & Johnson, et al., Petitioners v. Gail L. Ingham, et al., in which a St. Louis jury decided in favor of the plaintiffs. At the time (2018), the jury decided to award $4.7 billion to the 22 plaintiffs involved.

Johnson & Johnson asked a Missouri appeals court to throw out the judgment entirely in June 2020, with the court declining to do so, noting that “there was significant reprehensibility in defendants’ conduct” and that “the harm suffered by plaintiffs was physical, not just economic.”  The Missouri appeals court did, however, decide that not all of the 22 plaintiffs should have been included in the original trial since not all of them had the legal standing to file a lawsuit of this nature in the state of Missouri. Because of this, the appeals court removed two of the plaintiffs from the lawsuit and decreased the judgment to $2.1 billion, the Associated Press reported.

Since the Missouri appeals court did not reverse the judgment, Johnson & Johnson needed to seek a higher court’s judgment, leading the company to file the petition for a writ of certiorari in March 2021. The argument based on which Johnson & Johnson requested the Supreme Court to review the decision was, as NBC News reported, “that the Missouri courts unfairly combined the cases of nearly two dozen women from several states whose cancer severity varied widely” instead of trying cases individually, in some instances in other states. Johnson & Johnson cited concerns over “jury confusion” related to the consolidation of multiple plaintiffs into one trial. Another question Johnson & Johnson’s petition had asked the Supreme Court to consider had it taken up the case was whether the punitive damages awarded in this case had “violate[d] due process.”

Reference: “Talc Lawsuit Update JUNE 2021: Supreme Court Declines to Hear Appeal in $2 Billion Jury Award against j&j.” The National Law Review, https://www.natlawreview.com:443/article/talc-lawsuit-update-june-2021-supreme-court-declines-to-hear-appeal-2-billion-jury

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Gayle Gerling Pettinga

Born and raised in Evansville, Gayle is a respected, experienced lawyer and a valued community leader. She graduated near the top of her class at Indiana University’s prestigious Maurer School of Law. She’s practiced law with one of the largest firms in Indianapolis as well as one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. And that means she knows how big law firms and big companies think and how they operate – and she will put that knowledge to work for you.

Gayle has received numerous awards and honors including Martindale-Hubbell — Peer Review Rated: AV®, American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys 10 Best Attorneys in Indiana for Exceptional and Outstanding Client Service, and YWCA Evansville 100 Years, 100 Women Honoree, 2011.

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