Last weekend This Week In Missouri Politics has their usual panel and raised the unusual topic of “tort reform.” This is going to be one of the next big issues addressed by the Missouri legislature now that they have passed Right-to-Work for less. The corporate financed GOP is now ready to limit your rights to a fair shot at compensation for injuries inflicted by corporations in the name of profit. During discussion of this issue the right wing members of the panel called St. Louis a “judicial hellhole” and cited a study of dubious origins as Exhibit “A.”
This lame attempt by Missouri Republicans to justify the taking of ordinary citizens legal rights has many of the hallmarks of previous campaigns by Big Tobacco. St. Louis was tagged with the “judicial hellhole’ label due to three recent decisions against Johnson and Johnson.
The particulars of this trial and the importance of maintaining the current legal environment is provided in this excellent opinion piece by attorney Roger Denton, Don’t fall for corporate lobbyists’ junk science, “Judicial Hellhole” claims..
What should we think when a corporate-funded lobbying group places our local courts at the very top of its annual “Judicial Hellholes” list? That was the message last month from the American Tort Reform Association, a group funded by large tobacco, pharmaceutical, insurance, energy and chemical corporations.
With a page straight from Big Tobacco’s playbook, the ATRA is deliberately ignoring difficult facts and is trashing our courts through a negative public relations campaign to change the rules of our courts and shield its corporate funders from responsibility. Don’t be fooled; there is no methodology behind the “Hellhole” list. St. Louis and every other court deemed a “Judicial Hellhole” are singled out for one reason only — these are courts in which citizen jurors have found big corporations liable for dangerous products and practices.
Our city drew the attention of this big-business cheerleader based on three recent verdicts against Johnson & Johnson. In each of these trials, jurors considered three weeks of testimony before concluding that Johnson & Johnson had ignored dozens of published medical and scientific studies and decades of mounting evidence highlighting links between genital application of talcum powder by women and ovarian cancer. These juries punished Johnson & Johnson for a culture that places profit over safety.
Thanks to the central location and efficiency of our courts, dying women have been given a voice. Our juries have seen documents that Johnson & Johnson would prefer to keep hidden, including a 1974 letter to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration in which the corporation pledged to discontinue talc products if any scientific studies revealed questions about talc’s safety. Shamefully, those products remain available despite a raft of studies and meta-studies that have drawn lines from talc use to ovarian cancer. Johnson & Johnson’s own toxicologist wrote in 1994, “Anybody who denies (the published research) risks that the talc industry will be perceived by the public like it perceives the cigarette industry: denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”
St. Louis juries were no doubt alarmed to learn how Johnson & Johnson aggressively marketed its talc products to African-American and Hispanic women even after these safety concerns became apparent. They even heard from a Johnson & Johnson whistleblower who testified that supervisors instructed her to alter hundreds of Adverse Event Reports, which the FDA often relies upon to monitor product safety issues.