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Addressing jurisdictional issues an important task in asbestos, talc-injury cases

Previously, we began looking at a recent Supreme Court case which puts prior talc-injury verdicts against Johnson & Johnson at risk of being reversed and which could present serious barriers for plaintiffs in these cases going forward. According to some attorneys, the decision will make it very difficult, if not impossible, for plaintiffs to exercise choice about the forum in which they sue companies responsible for exposing consumers to talc.

As we noted last time, at issue in the case was the requirements for personal jurisdiction, which is the authority of a court over a party in the context of a specific dispute. For personal jurisdiction to apply, a court must have jurisdiction over both the subject matter of the dispute and over each party involved in the dispute. There are several ways personal jurisdiction can apply, one of which is when there is sufficient contacts with the state to give the court authority over the parties.  

One way sufficient contact can be proven is by general jurisdiction, which is based on a defendant’s continuous activity in the jurisdiction. Another possibility is specific jurisdiction, which is when a cause of action arises out of a single activity or act of the defendant in the jurisdiction. In the Supreme Court case we’ve been discussing, specific jurisdiction was denied because the plaintiffs didn’t suffer any harm in the state where the litigation was filed. It wasn’t enough that the plaintiffs’ claims were similar in many respects to claims made by other plaintiffs with residency in the state, nor that the defendant was engaged in other activity in the state. The court, it was ruled, just didn’t have jurisdiction over the nonresident plaintiffs since there wasn’t minimum contact with the state for purposes of the dispute.

The details of this case may not be that interesting to readers, but the ruling in this case certainly could have a significant impact on both talc-injury and asbestos injury cases. Defendants in these types of cases know that personal jurisdiction can be a key to having a case dismissed, and will work that angle whenever possible to avoid liability. For plaintiffs, therefore, it is important to work with an experienced attorney who understands the law and how to select a favorable forum where personal jurisdiction can be firmly established.

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