A New Jersey federal court judge will determine the fate of almost 12,000 lawsuits that claim that Johnson & Johnson’s talc-containing baby powder causes women to develop ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
Plaintiffs from all around the United States have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, alleging that the talc that is contained in the company’s baby powder causes cancer. The plaintiffs believe that the powder contains carcinogenic asbestos and/or asbestiform fibers, which led them to develop cancer.
Johnson & Johnson denied all claims. The company argued that the plaintiffs could not show that its baby powder causes cancer.
Some of the lawsuits have been litigated with varying results. Juries have awarded several verdicts to cancer victims in the tens of millions of dollars, with a $4.7 billion award last year.
More than 12,600 of the remaining lawsuits were combined into a multidistrict litigation that is currently being litigated in New Jersey federal court before U.S. District Court Judge Freda Wolfson.
The Daubert Hearings
Johnson & Johnson made a motion to exclude 11 of the plaintiff’s experts, arguing that their methodologies on general causation were unreliable.
Counsel for Johnson & Johnson wrote, “Plaintiffs’ experts’ general causation opinions are methodologically unsound and should be excluded under Daubert, because they misapply scientific principles, engage in unsupported leaps of logic, and distort epidemiology in a results-oriented manner that transforms an important tool for advancing public health into an unprincipled weapon for litigation. … In a nutshell, this is science for the courtroom, not science for the laboratory.”
Judge Wolfson ordered a Daubert hearing to determine if the experts should be allowed to testify.
In the Daubert hearing, the district court heard testimony from Johnson & Johnson’s expert witness, Dr. Benjamin Neel, who is the director of the Laura and Issaac Perlmutter Cancer Center and a Professor of Medicine at New York University. Dr. Neel is a prolific author, having written more than 234 peer-reviewed articles. His work has been cited more than 45,000 times in scientific research articles.
Dr. Neel’s testimony was centered on cellular biology. Dr. Neel stated that he believed that there was a lack of current evidence to suggest that application of talc powder in the genital region would cause inflammation that would lead to ovarian cancer.
The day before Dr. Neel testified, plaintiff’s expert Dr. Ghassam M. Saed testified that talc application to cells for 72 hours can result in a global change in a specific DNA sequence. Defense counsel Susan M. Sharko of Drinker Biddle & Reath asked Dr. Neel whether Dr. Saed’s opinion was correct. Dr. Neel stated, “That is completely inconsonant with everything we know about modern molecular biology.” Dr. Neel testified that Dr. Saed’s opinions had no relevance to ovarian cancer, that he had “flawed methodologies,” and that his conclusions “do not comport with modern pathogenesis.”
Plaintiffs’ attorney John M. Restaino of The Sanders Law Firm cross-examined Dr. Neel. Restaino asked Dr. Neel what causes cancer. Dr. Neel replied that cancer can be caused by inherited predisposition, abnormal errors in genomic replication, and environmental agents. However, Dr. Neel also emphasized that “There is no evidence of epidemiological studies alone that say perineal talc application causes cancer.”