Plaintiffs win, Johnson & Johnson loses key battle over experts
TRENTON, N.J. – A New Jersey appellate court has overturned a 2016 district court opinion that had tossed the claims of two women alleging that regular, decades-long use of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder led to their ovarian cancer.
In its ruling, the three-judge panel sharply criticized the actions of Atlantic County Judge Nelson C. Johnson in denying testimony from the plaintiff’s causation experts and granting summary judgment on behalf of J&J.
“The judge relied upon his own reading of the supporting material to dismiss the opinions of plaintiffs’ principal experts as flawed,” wrote Justices Carmen H. Alvarez, Karen L. Suter and Patrick DeAlmeida. “In other words, his conclusions went to the merits of their opinions and his disagreement with them, rather than their methodology and the soundness of their data. In some instances, he relied upon defendants’ expert opinions to explain his disagreement, and mischaracterized it as proof of unsound methods.”
“We conclude, contrary to the trial judge, that the experts’ opinions were indeed based on sound methodology applied to data upon which experts in their field may reasonably rely. Therefore, genuine issues of material fact preclude the grant of summary judgment to defendants,” the panel wrote. “We are satisfied that plaintiffs’ experts adhered to methodologies generally followed by experts in the field, and relied upon studies and information generally considered an acceptable basis for inclusion in the formulation of expert opinions. Suppression of their testimony was an abuse of discretion.”
The original lawsuits denied by Judge Johnson were filed by Brandi Carl and Diana Balderrama in 2014 and were the first talc-ovarian cancer lawsuits filed in state court in New Jersey, where Johnson & Johnson is based.
“The appellate panel correctly ruled that a judge should not serve as a gatekeeper and substitute his own opinion in considering the credibility of expert witnesses and their testimony,” said the trial counsel for the two women, Ted Meadows of the Beasley Allen Law Firm of Montgomery, Alabama. “We look forward to trying these cases before New Jersey juries, and bringing forward the many other claims that have been suspended pending this ruling.”
The evidence submitted in the 2014 cases was limited to the women’s exposure to platy talc in Johnson’s Baby Powder. Evidence of additional carcinogenic components, such as asbestos and talc fibers, as well as the scientific evidence published since 2016 was not considered. Attorneys for the families believe this additional evidence strongly supports the causal link between the genital use of talc and ovarian cancer.
In addition, more than 18,000 claims are consolidated in federal multidistrict litigation in New Jersey alleging a causal connection between talc use and ovarian cancer, as well as J&J’s suppression of the related evidence and science. In late April, Chief Judge Freda L. Wolfson ruled that numerous medical, scientific and mineralogical experts could testify in upcoming bellwether trials.