The ongoing saga of the talcum powder litigation going on across the county continues to escalate.
A retired U.S. District Judge has now been appointed as Special Master to resolve all discovery disputes in the New Jersey MDL alleging Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based powder products cause ovarian cancer.
U.S. District Judge Joel Pisano recently returned to private practice after more than 20 years on the federal bench. He left in the bench in 2015 after serving as a Magistrate Judge from 1991 to 2000 and thereafter being appointed U.S. District Judge in 2000 by former President Bill Clinton. He will now be responsible for discovery involving more than 2,000 cases filed in the MDL accusing Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products of personal injury or wrongful death.
The Special Master appointment was made this past month by the U.S. District Judge overseeing the MDL—Hon. Freda Wolfson. One of the first major discovery issues to be tackled by Judge Pisano is a pending protective order filed by Johnson & Johnson on August 16. The motion seeks the Court to oversee testing of some 92 containers of baby powder stored at Johnson & Johnson’s headquarters in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Johnson & Johnson claims plaintiffs’ attorneys wish to test the samples, which span over 125 years.
Obviously, the key ongoing issue in the litigation is the alleged link between cancer and talcum powder containing asbestos fibers. The analysis by plaintiffs’ experts of those containers will be crucial in establishing necessary threshold exposure to asbestos and causation. The plaintiffs have sought the containers of baby powder in 12 state court cases outside the federal MDL. Defendants allege in their protective order motion that plaintiffs’ testing of the samples could amount to “destructive testing” and preclude the defense from conducting their own tests.
There are thousands of more cases pending in state courts in Missouri, California, New Jersey, and Delaware. On August 21, a Los Angeles jury handed down a $417 million verdict. Juries in four other Missouri state trials also rendered plaintiff verdicts ranging between $55 million and $110 million.
Judge Pisano declined to comment on his appointment.