Missouri appeals court tosses $55 million J&J talc-powder verdict

FILE PHOTO: A bottle of Johnson and Johnson Baby Powder is seen in a photo illustration taken in New York, February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/Illustration

By Tina Bellon

(Reuters) - A Missouri appeals court on Friday threw out a $55 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson in a lawsuit by a woman who claimed she developed ovarian cancer after using talc-based products, including J&J's baby powder, citing a U.S. Supreme court ruling on where such cases can be brought.

South Dakota resident Gloria Ristesund had been awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages in the 2016 verdict.

She alleged that her decades-long use of J&J talc-based products for feminine hygiene caused her cancer, and that the company had failed to warn consumers about the risks.

J&J denied the allegations, saying decades of testing have shown its cosmetic talc-based products to be safe.

The healthcare conglomerate is battling some 9,000 cases claiming its talc-based products cause ovarian cancer and, in some cases, mesothelioma, a rare cancer closely linked to asbestos exposure, amid allegations the products were contaminated with asbestos fibers. J&J has said its talc products do not contain asbestos or cause any form of cancer.

The unanimous three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals in the Eastern District, in overturning the verdict, did not rule on the merits of the allegations.

The judges instead said the verdict could not stand following a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision that limits where companies can be sued for personal injuries.

The high court ruled that state courts cannot hear claims against companies that are not based in the state or when the alleged injuries did not occur there.

J&J is based in New Jersey and Ristesund exclusively purchased and used the company's talc products in South Dakota and Minnesota, according to court records.

J&J, in a statement, said it was extremely pleased with the court's decision to recognize that the trial should have never occurred.

Ristesund's case was one of more than 60 related talc lawsuits consolidated in Missouri state court, where juries have a reputation for issuing high-paying verdicts. But only one of those cases involved a woman from Missouri, leading many of the cases to be tossed on jurisdictional grounds.

During the appeals process, Ristesund asked the court for permission to present additional evidence tying J&J to Missouri. The judges on Friday rejected her request, saying she had ample opportunity to present such evidence over the past two years.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon; Editing by David Gregorio and Bill Berkrot)