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Shezad Malik MD JD
Shezad Malik MD JD
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US Supreme Court decision affects plaintiffs’ State choice for filing lawsuits

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Injured plaintiffs’ ability to choose various state jurisdictions in which to bring personal injury and product liability suits was severely curtailed by a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week.

Talcum powder Ovarian Cancer lawsuits

J&J Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talc based products linked to Ovarian Cancer in women

In a sweeping decision, the justices ruled 8-1 that hundreds of out-state-residents cannot sue Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in California state court over injury claims from the blood thinner Plavix. The Court said that the out of state plaintiffs did not purchase or consume the medication in California, and Bristol-Myers Squibb is incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in New York.

The Court sided with big business in May involving out-of-state injury claims against BNSF Railway Co. Large corporations are happy with these landmark decisions and are vehemently opposed to “venue shopping,” in which injured plaintiffs file in friendly state courts.

According to plaintiffs, corporations are squeezing their court access by denying them their day in friendly state courts. Bottom line according to the Court, State courts cannot hear claims against companies that are not based in the state when the alleged injuries did not occur there.

Decision leads to mistrial in Talcum Powder Ovarian Cancer Trial

After the Supreme Court ruling, St. Louis Circuit Judge Burlison declared a mistrial in a Missouri state court case in which three plaintiffs, two from out-of-state, had filed against Johnson & Johnson, over its talcum powder allegedly ovarian cancer.

Missouri, California and several other states have allowed non-resident plaintiffs to file claims in their state court system. According to these states if a company does business in their state, it is enough of a connection to allow a plaintiff to file a complaint in that state, irrespective of where that plaintiff is from or where the company is located.

St. Louis Missouri Talc Docket in jeopardy for out of state claims

More than 2,000 plaintiffs have filed similar ovarian cancer lawsuits in St. Louis against Johnson & Johnson. However, most of the affected plaintiffs do not live in Missouri. Over the past eighteen months, five trials have gone to verdict. The St. Louis jury found for the plaintiffs in four of those cases, and awarded more than $300 million in aggegate.

The Supreme Court ruling has given Johnson & Johnson fresh ammunition to challenge and push for the reversal of the plaintiffs verdicts in talc cases that are currently under appeal. Johnson & Johnson claims that was forced to defend itself in multiple trials in Missouri, a state with no connection to the plaintiffs and them since they are headquartered in New Jersey.

Unintended and unknown consequences of decision

It is unknowable that this time what the unintended consequences of the ruling will be, except that it will be far reaching and substantial. Certainly, the far reaching impact will reverberate in appellate state courts over the coming months to years as the decision is put to the test.