Recently, Johnson & Johnson admitted in its annual report that it has received subpoenas from the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The subpoenas apparently related to the litigation alleging that J&J’s signature line of baby powder contained asbestos and caused cancer among regular users.
Reuters attempted to reach the two agencies for comment. The Justice Department declined and the SEC failed to immediately respond to the request.
Congress may also be investigating the issue. In January, Senator Patty Murray sent a letter to J&J’s CEO asking for information and documents about how its talc products are tested for possible carcinogens and “how it presented that information to regulators and consumers.”
J&J is currently fighting lawsuits brought by some 13,000 people alleging that Johnson & Johnson baby powder and other J&J talc products caused their cancers. In December, as we discussed on this blog, a Reuters investigation found that J&J knew for decades that its talc products contained asbestos and tried to cover it up. J&J disputes the allegations and insists its baby powder is safe and asbestos-free. However, the Reuters investigation resulted in a $40-billion selloff of J&J shares.
California jury issues $29-million award in mesothelioma case against J&J
Meanwhile, on March 13, 2019, a jury in California awarded a woman over $29 million after determining that her mesothelioma was caused by Johnson & Johnson baby powder and Shower to Shower. Both are J&J products containing talc, which is often mined near asbestos deposits. Mesothelioma is a deadly form of lung cancer exclusively caused by asbestos.
After a nine-week trial with testimony from almost a dozen expert witnesses, the jury deliberated for two days before coming to its verdict. The jury found that the two J&J talc products were defective because they were tainted with asbestos. It also found that the company had failed to warn consumers about the defect. However, the jury did not award any punitive damages as a punishment for wrongdoing.
This was the first J&J talc case that has been tried since the Reuters investigation indicated J&J’s long-term knowledge and cover-up of the problem.
“Yet another jury has rejected J&J’s misleading claims that its talc was free of asbestos,” said an attorney for the plaintiff. “The internal J&J documents that the jury saw, once more laid bare the shocking truth of decades of cover- up, deception and concealment by J&J.”
Of the approximately 13,000 cases, 11 have been tried so far. The plaintiffs won three cases and have been awarded billions in damages. J&J has won another three cases and five ended in hung juries. J&J has appealed all the plaintiffs’ awards.