The Cook Group Legal Litigation Attorneys

Florida Court Vacates $9M Award in Asbestos-Talc Case against J&J

On August 5, 2020, the Florida 11th Judicial Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County ordered a new trial on damages in an asbestos-talcum powder case that resulted in a $9 million verdict against defendants associated with Johnson & Johnson earlier this year. In vacating the jury’s verdict, the Court concluded that the “jury’s disregard of the evidence concerning economic damages quite transparently spilled over to its award of non-economic damages.”

Plaintiff Blanca Moure-Cabrera filed the complaint in January 2019, alleging that she had developed peritoneal mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos and asbestiform fibers in talc and talcum powders.

After the matter went to verdict, the jury awarded $9 million total against Johnson & Johnson, finding that there was asbestos in the defendant’s Baby Powder and that this asbestos was the cause of the plaintiff’s mesothelioma. The jury’s award included $3 million for medical expenses, $3 million for past pain and suffering, and $3 million for future pain and suffering.

The Johnson & Johnson defendants filed post-trial motions contesting the verdict, in part arguing that the award for past medical expenses was excessive.

The trial court agreed, pointing out that counsel for the plaintiffs had identified the amount of medical bills during closing arguments to total $774,867.34. Given that the jury awarded four times the amount claimed by the plaintiffs themselves, the  court found that there is “no doubt” that the jury’s award of past medical expenses is against the weight of the evidence.

“There is no dispute that the jury’s verdict of economic damages has no basis to the evidence,” the court found. “While the parties dispute whether Plaintiff introduced any evidence of past medical expenses, even Plaintiff agrees that she did not introduce evidence to support more than $774,867.34 in past medical expenses. Even if the Court agrees with Plaintiff that there was record in the evidence to support that amount, it is manifestly clear that the jury disregarded that evidence when it awarded $3 million in economic damages. Simply put, no one contends that the economic damages is based in the evidence—or even that the evidence supports an amount in the vicinity of the amount the jury awarded.”

The Court concluded that the proper remedy required vacating the damages award and holding a new trial on economic damages. The court further found that a new trial on non-economic damages is also warranted given the disconnect between the economic damages and the evidence in the case.

“The jury’s economic award was so far off from what Plaintiff contends the evidence supports as to undermine all integrity in the jury’s calculation of damages. This is especially so because the jury awarded identical amounts in every line in the verdict form: $3,000,000. Thus, the jury’s disregard of the evidence concerning economic damages quite transparently spilled over to its award of noneconomic damages…”

In a separate order entered on the same day, the Court denied a request by the defense to set aside the verdict and enter a directed verdict.