(Photo: Austin Kirk via Wikimedia Commons)
The Missouri Supreme Court has temporarily halted a closely watched talcum powder trial against Johnson & Johnson.
The court issued its preliminary writ of prohibition on Oct. 13 in a case involving Shawn Blaes, a Missouri resident who died in 2010 from ovarian cancer after prolonged use of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and Shower to Shower. The case, one of thousands alleging that Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products caused ovarian cancer, had been scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 16.
Rex Burlison, the St. Louis judge who was overseeing the trial, denied a request by Johnson & Johnson to move the case out of his courtroom. After unsuccessfully appealing that order, Johnson & Johnson filed a petition for a writ of prohibition on Oct. 3 before the Missouri Supreme Court.
The Missouri Supreme Court gave Burlison until Nov. 13 to show why his ruling against Johnson & Johnson shouldn’t be vacated.
A Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman declined to comment, and a spokesman for the plaintiffs’ team, which includes Ted Meadows, principal at Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles in Montgomery, Alabama, and R. Allen Smith of The Smith Law Firm in Ridgeland, Mississippi, did not respond to a request for comment.
Blaes is one of 48 women, many of whom aren’t from Missouri, who have brought talcum powder claims against Johnson & Johnson in a single lawsuit in Missouri called Swann v. Johnson & Johnson.
Her husband, Michael Blaes, originally went to trial in June along with the families of two other plaintiffs from that case, neither of whom was from Missouri. But Burlison declared a mistrial after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 19 ruling in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California made it harder for plaintiffs to sue in states outside their own.
Johnson & Johnson has attempted to sever the Blaes’ claims from the Swann case several times, even before Bristol-Myers, arguing that plaintiff’s attorneys are forum shopping. Its lawyers insist that the Blaes’ claims belong in St. Louis County, not the city of St. Louis, where juries have come out with talcum powder verdicts ranging from $55 million to $110 million.
Separately, another jury granted a record $417 million verdict in California, where a Los Angeles Superior Court judge is weighing whether to toss the award on various grounds, including alleged juror misconduct.