September 07, 2016

New Jersey Judge Throws Out Expert Evidence in Talc Litigation

In the wake of two multimillion-dollar plaintiffs’ verdicts in Missouri earlier this year, a New Jersey court handed Johnson & Johnson a significant victory in the ongoing litigation over the alleged connection between cosmetic talc and ovarian cancer.

On Friday, September 2, Judge Nelson Johnson of the Superior Court of New Jersey in Atlantic County granted Johnson & Johnson’s motion to exclude two of the plaintiffs’ general and specific causation experts and entered summary judgment for Johnson & Johnson and against two plaintiffs in Brandi Carl v. Johnson & Johnson, et al. and Diana Balderrama v. Johnson & Johnson et al. In his opinion, Judge Johnson laid out the Court’s extensive work reviewing “approximately 100 treatises relating to talc, cancer, and miscellaneous related scientific issues” and presiding over a seven-day Kemp hearing in order to evaluate the principles and methodology of the plaintiffs’ proffered experts. Judge Johnson described a Kemp hearing as “the intersection of the scientific method and the rule of law,” and commented that, “[i]f our court system is to be respected by the scientific community, then we must respect the scientific process.” Ultimately, Judge Johnson concluded that the plaintiffs’ experts had presented only “narrow and shallow” analyses, not sound science. The Court held that, “[t]hough both Plaintiffs’ experts are eminently qualified, their areas of scientific inquiry, reasoning, and methodology are slanted away from objective science and towards advocacy.”

Judge Johnson’s ruling exemplifies a trial court’s role as the gatekeeper tasked with determining whether expert evidence is sufficiently reliable to be presented to the jury. It also highlights how a strong science case can turn the tide of mass tort litigation. Meticulous expert selection and ensuring that science evidence presented is valid outside of the courtroom are keys to success.

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