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The Future of Talcum Powder Litigation

The 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Super. Ct of Cal. S.F. Cty., has left the future of talcum powder litigation uncertain.

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Super. Ct of Cal. S.F. Cty., (“BMS Decision”) was a consolidated action filed by approximately 60 plaintiffs, the majority of whom were non-residents of California. The plaintiffs alleged injuries due to the use of the prescription drug Plavix, manufactured and sold by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (“BMS”). Plavix was not developed in California, nor was it marketed, labeled or packaged there. However, BMS derived over 1% of its nationwide sales from California, employed over 250 sales representatives, 160 employees and had 3 small offices. BMS moved to dismiss the non-resident plaintiff’s claims on grounds that the California courts could not exercise jurisdiction over the non-resident claims because it violated BMS’s Due Process rights. The California courts rejected the argument, and BMS appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed the California ruling and held that BMS’s activities in California were not sufficient for the California courts to exercise specific jurisdiction over the non-resident’s claims.

The Supreme Court case set a new precedent that will apply to other mass tort cases and will have a significant impact on future mass tort litigation. The decision makes it more difficult for nonresidents to join consolidated state litigation. This, in turn, will increase the overall cost of mass litigation and make it more difficult for plaintiffs to join together in large groups that can more effectively fight corporations. Further, it will preclude many claims that don’t involve substantial injuries because the cost of bringing such claims individually or in limited groups will not justify the cost of prosecuting them.

In relation to the talcum powder litigation, this ruling has already had an impact in Missouri, and BMS will likely try to use it in California, Delaware and other states. The same day the BMS Decision was released, a Missouri judge declared a mistrial on a talc powder case it was hearing because two of the three plaintiffs were not residences of Missouri. A year later, one of the first talc powder lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, which resulted in a $55 million verdict in 2016, was set aside by an appellate court. Citing the BMS Decision, a three-judge panel deemed the nonresidential plaintiffs unable to join the consolidated litigation in Missouri. "The high court ruled that state courts cannot hear claims against companies that are not based in the state or when the alleged injuries did not occur there,” according to the ruling. This may lead to the dismissal of non-resident claims in the future. A plaintiff’s lawyer who recently won a multibillion-dollar verdict in a 22-plaintiff case in Missouri that included non-residents said, in response to J&J’s threatened appeal on jurisdictional grounds, “I hope they focus their appeal on jurisdiction because I’m confident we’ll win that.” He also stated that he and his team had amassed hundreds of pages of evidence regarding lobbying efforts and J&J focus groups conducted in Missouri, which he feels should be sufficient to overcome the application of the BMS Decision.

For more information about talc powder litigation and your rights, contact our New York City personal injury lawyers at Sullivan & Brill, LLP. Dial (646) 741-3884 or contact us online anytime by clicking here.