Iconic S.C. Judge, Odd Dateline Mark Milestone In Talc Cancer Litigation

Photo Credit: Tim Dominick | The State, as reported by The State, 12/5/15.

Photo Credit: Tim Dominick | The State, as reported by The State, 12/5/15.

 
 by Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher
 
“So far, the story of the talc litigation has mostly been about two things—the science and the choice of forum,” said Howard Erichson, a professor at Fordham University School of Law, quoted in the National Law Journal.
 
Despite late-night television ads and some media coverage, it may still come as a surprise to many people that nearly 10,000 families have brought lawsuits alleging that talc – yes, the talk of baby powder and old-school hygiene – caused their cancer, but that has been a rapidly emerging personal injury trend over the past few years.
 
Mostly, the big-verdict headlines have come from places that observers of civil litigation might expect: A California jury awarded $417 million in a single case (since overturned by a state judge who ordered a new trial), a few hundred million from St. Louis juries, several thousand cases pending in a New Jersey multi-district federal court.
 
So when news broke recently that the latest milestone case had ended in a hung jury, it was noteworthy not only that the case came from Darlington County (population 68,000) in the usually business-friendly South Carolina, but also that the judge in the case is progressive judicial icon and retired South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal.
 
While it’s certainly not uncommon for retired judges to preside over trials, especially ones that promise to take months of hearing and weeks of testimony, it’s not often that a former state chief justice takes the bench. And Judge Toal is no usual justice: When she published a 23-essay book last year entitled “Madam Chief Justice,” contributors of glowing pieces included U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and current Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
 
Drawing Judge Toal could not have been good news for Johnson & Johnson lawyers, given her longstanding advocacy for consumer rights and assertive demeanor honed over 27 years on the state’s highest court, with nearly 16 of those as chief justice.
 
Asked about her “assertive temperament” in a profile by The State newspaper of Columbia, S.C., Toal responded, with a reported smile:  “I very much concede that I understand the power of controlled aggression,” she says, explaining that it’s part of a trial lawyer’s psyche to be fierce. “Sometimes you need to get people’s attention. But you don’t need to beat them over the head with it. But yes, passion needs a face.”
 
She may also become the judicial face of the next talc litigation milestone, since the victims’ attorneys intend to re-try the case.
 
In a major story by reporter Lauren Sausser published May 6, in the Charleston, S.C.-based The Post and Courier newspaper tackled the talc litigation issue. In a story labeled “Toxic talc?” 
 
Sausser explains that a South Carolina woman “… is among thousands of women who have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, emboldened by multi-million-dollar verdicts and a body of anecdotal and scientific evidence linking talcum powder to cancer. They’re fighting to prove a definitive connection and to force the company to post warning labels on its product to spare others from the same fate.”
 
Sausser also quotes Charleston attorney Carmen Scott explaining that it was a $72 million for a South Carolina woman named Jacqueline Fox that provided “a watershed moment” for talc litigation. Scott, who handles hundreds of talcum powder cases at Motley Rice in Charleston told the newspaper that the $72 million verdict in that case represented “a very angry jury.”
 
Yet the story also notes that a Missouri appeals court tossed out the verdict, deciding that it was tried in the wrong venue, and that “… none of the plaintiffs have received any money, and company executives point to a lack of conclusive evidence linking ovarian cancer with their product.”
 
That means the talc litigation, unlike asbestos-based litigation over the cancer mesothelioma that has spanned over 40 years, is just getting started; specific courts and judicial decisions are just now being created.
 
Into that arena comes Judge Toal and her “assertive temperament.” Can that hold up in South Carolina’s pro-business environment? Well, she was on the high court for more than a quarter century and even survived an unusual election attempt by business-focused forces aimed at removing her from that job.
 
My bet? Look for more talc/asbestos headlines out of The Palmetto State.
 
(Sara Corcoran is publisher of the Courts Monitor and a contributor to CityWatch LA and other news outlets.)

Gynecological mesh is making legal headlines

Caption should be: Photo from CBS 60 Minutes story, 5/13/18.

Photo from CBS 60 Minutes story, 5/13/18.

A strip of plastic called gynecological mesh is making legal headlines. According to CBS’ 60 Minutes, “The manufacturers and several medical societies say the implant is safe. But more than 100,000 women are suing. And together, they make up the largest multi-district litigation since asbestos. “

One of the largest manufacturers of the gynecological mesh is Boston Scientific, which has attracted 48,000 lawsuits, which claim that its mesh “can inflict life-altering pain and injury.” Read more…

Courts Monitor publisher Sara Corcoran tells the tale of legal enigma in her recent Buzzfeed article

All Roads Lead to Baron & Budd-2 copyDebating the “nature of existence” is more the stuff of college dorms (and at least one recent documentary) than state appeals courts, so the legal team for a Texas journalist seeking to open a 20-year-old deposition transcript might have been taken aback when the debate arose not from the other side, but from the bench.

At issue is a deposition by a Texas attorney named Russell Budd, part of the politically connected Dallas-based firm Barron & Budd that rose to prominence, in large part, due to successfully representing asbestos victims. The Russell Budd deposition from 20 years ago reportedly addresses a “witness coaching memo” that was as controversial then as it is now.

Courts Monitor publisher Sara Corcoran tells the tale of this legal enigma in her recent Buzzfeed article, Texas Attorney General Paxton On Point To Open Mystery Testimony.

More lawsuits expected over J&J talcum powder in 2018

Photo credit: Alf van Beem via Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Alf van Beem via Wikimedia Commons

Johnson & Johnson returned to the courtroom in January to face more litigation over allegations that its talcum products caused cancer.

The pharmaceutical company’s lawyers entered a Middlesex County, N.J. courtroom for opening statements in a lawsuit “alleging that the company’s talc products caused an Essex County man to develop cancer,” reported NJ.com, which provides content to New Jersey’s leading newspaper, The Star-Ledger.

“A Stephen Lanzo, III, 46, of Verona, alleges that his use of Johnson’s Baby Powder throughout his life exposed him to asbestos, which lead him to develop mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that affects tissue in the lungs and abdomen. … The plaintiff and defense said they plan to utilize many expert testimonies throughout the trial, which is slated to run through the end of February,” the site reported.

Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs anticipated more litigation.

Distinguished Emeritus Professor Jean Eggen at Widener University Delaware Law School, Wilmington, Del., saw the potential for “large-scale litigation,” he told Bloomberg BNA.

Eggen said that, “because of varying claims, sources of talc, and causation hurdles, this latest wave of talc cases against J&J will be both easier and harder to litigate than both traditional asbestos suits involving insulation materials, and the ovarian cancer cases the company is already fighting. And with several multimillion-dollar verdicts having been handed down against other makers of older talc products recently, the Johnson and Johnson asbestos-in-talc litigation is expected to be both protracted and contentious, drawing in many other plaintiffs. …”

Maryland ruling could open door to asbestos-related death cases

Tens of thousands of cases related to illness and death from asbestos exposure could be adjudicated in Maryland based on an appeal before the state’s highest court.

“Maryland’s highest court is weighing whether to give workers who were sickened by asbestos exposure more time to sue their employers,” the Baltimore Sun reported on Dec. 1, 2017. “State law now allows 20 years for workers or their families to make claims regarding illness or death from exposure to asbestos.”

The Maryland Court of Appeals in Annapolis heard an appeal involving a steamfitter, James F. Piper, “who worked at a Maryland power plant in the 1970s and died more than four decades later from mesothelioma.”

On May 31, 2017, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled against the estate of James F. Piper and in favor of CBS Corp., owner of the company previously known as Westinghouse Electric.

“Piper was diagnosed with mesothelioma on December 26, 2013,” the lower court’s ruling reads. “The primary issue in the instant case is whether Piper’s cause of action against CBS is barred by the statute of repose.”

The “statute of repose,” according to the lower court ruling, “bars Piper’s cause of action against CBS, because Piper’s cause of action accrued when his mesothelioma was diagnosed in December 2013, which was more than twenty years after the turbine generator installed by Westinghouse at Morgantown became operational in July of 1970.”

The Sun reports, “Advocates say that if Piper’s estate wins the case, it could potentially open the door to lawsuits from others in similar situations who did not get sick until after the deadline to sue had passed. A coalition of unions and trade associations says the number could be in the tens of thousands of cases. …”

“The Maryland Defense Counsel, an organization of civil defense attorneys, filed a ‘friend of the court’ brief in support of CBS. The brief states that if the rules for the deadline to file cases are changed, businesses would lose ‘vital’ protections that were put into place ‘to protect businesses from facing construction-related claims like these years after the fact.”

Sara Corcoran, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Sara Corcoran, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Courts Monitor Publisher and national correspondent, Sara Corcoran, provides insight on what we can expect in 2018 around the controversial asbestos litigation arena. Here’s an excerpt from her recent Huffington Post article, 2018: Trump-era Justice Asked to Turn The Tables in Asbestos Litigation:

“As 2018 gains full speed, it’s time for my annual look at trends in the nation’s longest-running personal injury litigation – asbestos. You may have peripheral awareness of it due to those “if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma” ads, but its reach is beyond those sound bites playing on loop.
Actually, asbestos lawsuits are the nation’s longest-running personal injury litigation and have driven nearly 100 companies into a special form of banktruptcy, where trust funds are set up to pay future liabilities. Those funds have become controversial and, in 2017, more than a dozen state attorneys general launched an investigation into whether asbestos trusts were skipping required payments to Medicaid or other agencies providing health care to asbestos victims. (When victims receive compensation for asbestos injuries, some of the money may be owed to repay agencies that provided health care, like Medicaid and veteran’s hospitals.)

Likely even more ominous for the plaintiff’s bar in 2018, the state AGs are asking President Trump’s Justice Department to join their investigations of the repayment issue. The letter making that ask was even noted during a U.S. Senate committee hearing.”

Read more: https://www. huffingtonpost.com/entry/2018- trump-era-justice-asked-to- turn-the-tables-in_us_ 5a4f819be4b0cd114bdb323b]

From our Publisher: Call it the “Mystery of the Missing Memo”

Sara Corcoran, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Sara Corcoran, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Sara Corcoran, correspondent and contributing editor, as well as founding publisher of the National Courts Monitor, is sleuthing to find a missing article about the so-called “Baron & Budd witness coaching memo,” which has gone missing from Wikipedia, where it resided for years.

Writes Sara in Huffington Post:

“The ‘Terrell memo,’ as it is also known in honor of the paralegal who is said to have written it, has been a standard and controversial document in asbestos litigation circles for at least a decade. Most recently, it was cited by a federal judge in North Carolina who found evidence of evidence suppression in a landmark bankruptcy case known as Garlock. Critics of the memo say it leads witnesses to lie; defenders say its just good legal work… The memo is also part of a current Texas civil lawsuit by Dallas journalist Christine Biederman. Earlier this year, when a Texas judge refused to unseal the testimony given by a prominent victims’ attorney named Russell Budd some 20 years ago, the journalist called it a ‘travesty.'”

Read more: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/call-it-the-mystery-of-the-missing-memo_us_5a312d74e4b04bd8793e95fd

 

Victims Attorneys Confront Filmmaker After Asbestos Documentary Screening

Photo Credit: Image from 9/21/17 SE TexasRecord online report.

Photo Credit: Image from 9/21/17 SE TexasRecord online report.

In a panel discussing following a work-in-progress screening of his new asbestos documentary, filmmaker Paul Johnson might put at least two of America’s leading trail attorneys in the “needs more progress” category. The SE Texas Record reports that “… a couple of Texas’ most well-known toxic tort litigators had a few choice words after watching the unveiling of “Unsettled,” a documentary that offers a glimpse “Inside the Strange World of Asbestos Lawsuits.”

The Record also noted that the screening, which took place Sept. 20 at The University of North Texas/Dallas School of Law, drew a strong following: “… law Professionals from all walks of life were in attendance, including professors, students and a handful of prominent trial lawyers, who were all privy to a heated discussion between expert panelists following the viewing.”

Responding to the “heat,” Johnson pushed back, according to the Record: “… as the panelist discussion winded down, Johnson said he wanted his film to raise the following question: ‘At the end of the day, are lawyers taking too much money away from sick people?’ Without receiving much of a response, he asked Simon and Siegel if there was more asbestos attorneys could do to police the “bad actors” and if there was a better way to handle asbestos litigation so more money would go to those truly injured by asbestos products.”

See the report here: https://setexasrecord.com/stories/511224309-toxic-tort-litigator-jeffrey-simon-calls-unsettled-asbestos-documentary-poorly-produced-following-screening

(note: producers of the movie say the discussion will be posted to the film’s trailer site later this week.

Texas Journalist Explains Medicaid Flaw In Asbestos Lawsuits, Calls For Change

Photo Credit: File photo, Dallas Observer article, August 13, 2017

Photo Credit: File photo, Dallas Observer article, August 13, 2017

A Dallas-based journalist who pioneered coverage of asbestos lawsuit issues is calling for changes while explaining a “Catch 22″ that could be shortchanging states’ Medicaid coffers. Christine Biederman, writing as a contributor to The Hill newspaper in Washington D.C., explains that “… Medicaid secondary payer laws provide states potential funds. For example, if a Medicaid enrollee is sickened by asbestos, and Medicaid pays the healthcare bills, Medicaid is entitled to a share of any future personal injury settlement. Medicaid is theoretically required to recover part of the settlement.”

Biederman, who wrote a landmark Dallas Observer investigative story “Toxic Justice” 19 years ago, adds that “… in practice, this means that unless a lawyer, a defendant or another party to a personal injury claim is located in the same state as a Medicaid beneficiary, and thus required by state law to report payments, the state Medicaid agency will likely never learn about the money. Of course, the enrollee is supposed to report the windfall. If you think that usually happens … please get in touch, because I have an investment opportunity for you.”

The story benefits from the fact that Biederman is herself a Texas attorney and will be must-read material in the asbestos world. (Disclosure: Ms. Biederman contributed reporting to the documentary UnSettled by Canadian journalist Paul Johnson; the Courts Monitor has shared resources and research with producers of that film, scheduled for release this fall.)

Medicaid Catch-22: It’s time for the asbestos trusts to do what’s right

Texas Court Hearing Will Address Decades-Old Asbestos Testimony

A Texas reporter is trying to unearth asbestos-related testimony from nearly 20 years ago that might shed light on some more recent activity. Specifically, the reporter feels a deposition, apparently sealed for all this time, might shed light on a famous witness-coaching memo that came to light during the landmark Garlock bankruptcy case two years ago. A hearing is set for today (Jan. 31) in a downtown Austin, Tx., courtroom.


We will update the results, which are not expected to be immediate. Meanwhile, the case has attracted the attention of tort-reform organizations and even the center-right Tucker Carlson website Daily Caller, which published a scorched earth article on the even of the hearing. The reporter is also a contributor to the Paul Johnson Films documentary “UnSettled: Inside the Strange World of Asbestos Lawsuits” and did original reporting at the Dallas Observer that appeared in the film. Asbestos litigation is America’s longest-running tort litigation and a frequent target of civil lawsuit “reform” groups, typically backed by business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.


Read the Daily Caller opinion piece, from a regular contributor but not a news staff writer, here.