The New Jersey Appellate Division today threw out a more than $223 million jury award to a group of ex-Baby Powder users who blamed their cancers on asbestos in the talc-based version of the Johnson & Johnson product.

Judges Haas, Gooden Brown and Puglisi granted new trials in the matter, finding that the trial court erred by allowing jurors to hear improper scientific testimony linking the J&J product to the four plaintiffs’ cancers.

Four groups of plaintiffs filed lawsuits alleging that J&J involved in mining and processing asbestos-containing products, including Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, which were sold and caused them to develop mesothelioma following their long-term use of these products.

By the time of trial, the only remaining claims against J&J were under the New Jersey Products Liability Act, premised upon a failure to warn and design defect theories. In addition, Plaintiffs McNeill-George presented a claim for defective manufacturing.

On September 11, 2019 and February 9, 2020, the jury returned verdicts in favor of plaintiffs and awarded them compensatory damages of $37,300,000 and punitive damages totaling $186,500,000 (a total of over $223 million).

Johnson's appealed, alleging that Middlesex County trial court erred during the evidentiary trial when it: allowed plaintiffs' experts to testify that non-asbestiform versions of the six asbestiform minerals, called "cleavage fragments," could cause mesothelioma; sua sponte consolidated the trials of the four groups of plaintiffs; struck Johnson's entire closing argument; and made cumulative errors as to the admission of evidence that enticed the jury to accept plaintiffs' allegations that Johnson's products contained asbestos and caused plaintiffs' mesothelioma. As to the punitive damages phase of the proceedings, Johnson's contended that the court erred when it: empaneled a new jury to decide punitive damages; denied their motion for a new punitive damages trial; and failed to conduct an appropriate post-trial review of the punitive damages awards.

Specifically, Johnson's alleged that the court abused its discretion when it denied their motions seeking N.J.R.E. 104 hearings because the plaintiffs' experts testimony was unreliable, not supported by generally accepted methodologies, and unsupported by the facts in the record.

In a written ruling released today, Judges Haas, Gooden Brown and Puglisi agreed.

"Having considered defendants' contentions on this point in light of the record and the applicable law, we agree that the trial court misapplied the well-established judicial gatekeeping procedures required by our courts and that the error was not harmless in regard to the plaintiffs' experts testimony. Therefore, we reverse and remand for a new trial," the Appellate panel concluded.

J&J is facing a wave of other talc-cancer trials early next year.

Johnson's was represented by attorneys Peter G. Verniero, John C. Garde, and Michael S. Carucci Esq. of McCarter & English, LLP, and Sills Cummis & Gross, PC.

Judge Lisa A. Puglisi previously served in the Criminal Division in the Ocean Vicinage. As previously reported here on FAA News, to alleviate the desperate shortage of judges in the Appellate Division, effective August 1, 2023, two Superior Court judges, including Judge Puglisi, were temporarily appointed to the higher court.

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