Augusta, GA— Jurors Tuesday morning cleared Johnson & Johnson and its Georgia-based bottler of responsibility for the cancer death of a retired teacher who had used Johnson’s Baby Powder for more than half a century. Monroe v. Johnson & Johnson, 2018RSCS01222.
The Richmond County State Court jury deliberated for less than four hours before finding in favor of J&J and PTI Royston on a host of claims stemming from the 2018 death of Margie Evans. The decision represents the first state court cosmetic talc case involving J&J to reach a verdict in Georgia.
Evans, a Richmond County School teacher for more than 30 years, had used Johnson’s Baby Powder for decades before being diagnosed with the ovarian cancer that ultimately led to her death. Her family contends asbestos in the talc used for J&J’s Baby Powder caused the disease.
During Monday’s closings, The Barnes Law Group’s Roy Barnes, representing Evans’ family, sought more than $84 million in compensatory damages, including $58 million for Evans' death and $26 million for her pain and suffering, plus possible punitives.
Cosmetic talc lawsuits typically claim that fibers in the powder cause either mesothelioma or, as in this case, ovarian cancer. Monroe was among the first state court trials over talc's alleged links to ovarian cancer since pandemic-related court shutdowns last year. And the three-week trial focused on what connection, if any J&J’s talc had to Evans’ cancer.
During Monday's closings, Barnes walked jurors through evidence he said proved J&J knew that its talc contained cancer-causing asbestos but failed to warn consumers for decades. Barnes said that J&J engaged in “sleight of hand” in its testing, and shifted definitions of what constituted dangerous asbestos so that it could avoid acknowledging the hazards inherent in its product.
“It’s an invention of J&J and smart lawyers trying to confuse you,” Barnes said.
But J&J counters that allegations linking its talc to cancer are actually driven by plaintiffs’ attorneys with no basis in science. During Monday’s closings, Shook Hardy & Bacon’s Kenneth Reilly highlighted a slate of scientific organizations that concluded talc is safe, and he noted four cancer experts determined there was no link between J&J talc and Evans’ cancer. That evidence, Reilly said, failed to help plaintiffs up the “mountain” of proving their case.
“Have they gotten off the ground? Did they get out of the valley?” Reilly asked. “Nobody helped them get up this mountain.”
Meanwhile, Royston argues its bottling procedures were proper under the circumstances. On Monday, Sherry Knutson, of Tucker Ellis, told jurors that the talc shipped to Royston for bottling never failed asbestos tests and that very little evidence about Royston at all was offered at trial. “The reason you did not hear about Royston is clear,” Knutson said. “We did nothing wrong.”
In a statement released after the verdict, J&J said it sympathized with ovarian cancer patients and their families, but it noted Tuesday’s decision was the fifth defense verdict in a row on the issue.
“And yet, despite the lack of any scientific evidence to support their claims,” the J&J statement read, “the plaintiff trial bar continues to push forward with its misinformation campaign to drive baseless and inflammatory headlines in the hopes they can force a resolution of these cases. The claims by these lawyers are unfounded and it is clear the only interest they have is their own financial gain.”
CVN has reached out to attorneys for the plaintiffs and PTI Royston and will update this article with their comments.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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