A California jury has awarded a 24-year-old man $18.8 million after finding he developed mesothelioma after being exposed to Johnson & Johnson’s talc products since childhood.
The $18.8 million is meant to compensate the young man for his medical bills and pain and suffering.
However, he may not collect the compensation in his lifetime. This is because J&J has spun off its talc products into a separate company, which has twice declared bankruptcy. Both times the bankruptcy court ruled J&J’s legal shenanigan was improper and dismissed the cases. J&J says it will appeal the most recent dismissal, which occurred just last week.
Because of the bankruptcy, all other litigation regarding J&J’s talc products was on hold. The bankruptcy judge let this trial move forward because the young man’s mesothelioma is aggressive and he doesn’t have long to live.
J&J denies mesothelioma and ovarian cancer are linked to asbestos-tainted talc
Tens of thousands of people have sued J&J, alleging that its baby powder and other talc products were sometimes tainted with asbestos. When people used the asbestos-tainted talc for personal hygiene, they sometimes developed mesothelioma or ovarian cancer.
Through its subsidiary, LTL Management, J&J denies its products are tainted with asbestos or that they cause cancer. In fact, LTL Management has filed lawsuits against four doctors whose studies claim to have discovered a link between talc and mesothelioma. The company claims that the studies included people exposed to asbestos in other ways, making the link they showed less convincing.
The lawsuits claim the doctors disparaged the product and committed fraud and trademark violations. They allege that the doctors made these false statements because they wanted to be hired as expert witnesses in talc-related lawsuits.
Suing the expert witnesses is an unusual, aggressive move by LTL management. One law professor told Reuters that “it sends a message that the gloves are off.”
Reuters report claims that J&J knew of the asbestos problem but kept silent
In 2018, Reuters published a blockbuster investigative report that J&J knew for decades its talc products, including its baby powder, contained asbestos. Instead of warning consumers, however, it hid the evidence from regulators and the public.
Between 1972 and 1975, three different labs found asbestos in J&J’s talc. Mine managers, doctors, scientists and lawyers at the company communicated about the problem, Reuters found in company documents. But they didn’t disclose the issue to anyone else.
At the same time, Reuters alleged, J&J successfully lobbied against government efforts to limit the use of talc in cosmetic products.
The 1970s wasn’t the only time tests found asbestos in J&J’s talc products. It continued at least until the early 2000s, according to the confidential company documents obtained by Reuters.
J&J’s talc-related litigation costs have reached $4.5 billion
It is still unclear whether LTL Management’s second attempt at bankruptcy will be permitted. Its earlier attempt at bankruptcy was turned away by an appellate court, but LTL filed again. This past Friday (8/11/23), the bankruptcy judge ruled the second attempt was improper as well.
J&J has proposed to set aside $8.9 billion for about 38,000 existing plaintiffs, but only if, once those were settled, no further cases could be filed.
This plan would leave many sick people without full compensation. Those who have already filed cases would be limited to shares of a fixed settlement fund. Those who have yet to discover their illnesses would be left with no recourse. Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson would continue to operate as one of the world’s most profitable companies.