Litigation Update: Johnson & Johnson Sets Aside $3.9B to Cover Talc Liabilities

by | Mar 3, 2021

In an SEC filing on February 23, Johnson & Johnson set aside $3.9 billion in litigation expenses it says are “primarily associated with talc-related reserves and certain settlements”. The amount takes into account the record July 2018 $4.69B verdict awarded by a St. Louis, Missouri jury in favor of 22 women who alleged that the company’s talc-based products were contaminated with asbestos and caused their cancers; the money will also cover other talc settlements.

After the Missouri Court of Appeals cut the massive verdict to $2.1 billion, citing a finding that the conduct of a J&J subsidiary in Missouri could not be imputed to the parent company, it later declined, in the face of J&J’s argument that the verdict was flawed and excessive, to review its ruling, as did the Supreme Court of Missouri, resulting in J&J’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that the verdict be thrown out entirely.  The manufacturer currently faces 25,000 lawsuits from plaintiffs who used its talc products and claim they caused their cancers; most of these cases are pending in multidistrict litigation in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey before the Honorable Freda L. Wolfson. There are also cases filed in New Jersey, Missouri and California.

In an April, 2020 ruling in the New Jersey MDL, Judge Wolfson in large part rejected J&J’s efforts to bar the testimony of the plaintiffs’ experts who opined that the company’s powder contained talc that in turn had the ability to cause the women’s ovarian cancers. Instead, the judge ruled that most of the expert testimony had the requisite scientific support to satisfy the Daubert standard, which paved the way to future trials in the MDL.

In support of their claims in the St. Louis case, the women pointed to internal documents from the early 1970s that indicate J&J officials had found trace amounts of asbestos in their talc products but never made those findings public; J&J has maintained that its talc products were safe and never contained asbestos.

Notwithstanding their position that decades of global studies prove their product is safe, J&J removed all its signature talc baby powder products off the shelves in the US and Canada in May, 2020, citing an assessment of the company’s portfolio in the wake of the ongoing pandemic and noting a decline in consumer demand as well as “misinformation” circulated about the safety of the product.

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