Over $100 million will be paid by Johnson & Johnson to settle over 1,000 cases related to cancer-causing agents in their baby powder products. This is the first settlement in four long years of talcum powder litigation that involves thousands of lawsuits claiming that the American multinational corporation’s baby powder and talcum powder products caused cancer.
The law firms that struck these accords signify that the world’s largest healthcare product manufacturer is trying to stay ahead of the growing cases in front of them. Securities filings report around 20,000 lawsuits that are still currently pending. This is the first time most of the talc contamination cases filed by plaintiffs have been settled by Johnson & Johnson, as most individual cases had previously been settled out of court.
Seven months ago, Johnson & Johnson faced a jury that reviewed evidence about the cancer risks linked to using its talc products. While the company maintained they were safe to use, Johnson & Johnson has since replaced its talc-based powders with cornstarch in Canada and the United States. Johnson & Johnson has used the delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to hold off on settlement negotiations.
Talcum Powder Lawsuit Background Information
For 50 years, Johnson & Johnson knew that their talc products had small levels of asbestos contamination and did not tell their consumers about it, according to a 2018 New York Times investigation. The results showed that their talc products contained 0.00002% of chrysotile asbestos, and in October 2019, they were pulled from the market. Since then, thousands of people have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, claiming that they had developed ovarian cancer and mesothelioma due to its talc products, which exposed them to asbestos. Plaintiffs believe that the company was aware of the cancer risks their talc powder posed as early as the 1970s and did not warn consumers about them.
In April 2020, a judge in New Jersey ruled that plaintiffs claiming J&J’s talcum powder products caused cancer may proceed to have expert testimony in their lawsuits. However, there will be limitations on expert testimony allowed concerning the talc and baby powder products in question. This was a serious blow to the company, as they had been attempting to exclude any additional testimony so they could potentially shut down several thousand cases.
In May 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced to the public that they would no longer sell its talcum powders in Canada and the United States after demand fell due to misinformation regarding the safety of their products amid thousands of legal cases.
Cancer Linked to Talcum Powder Products
Talc is a mineral composed primarily of the elements oxygen, silicon, and magnesium. When used as talcum powder, it helps prevent rashes and keeps skin dry by cutting down on friction and absorbing moisture. It’s most commonly used in Johnson & Johnson’s facial powders, adult body powders, baby powders, and numerous other products.
In its most natural form, some talc contains cancer-causing asbestos, which can damage a person’s lungs when the powder is inhaled.
The trade association representing the personal care and cosmetic products industry, Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association (CTFA), issued voluntary guidelines about cosmetics containing talc. According to the association’s guidelines, they recommended that any cosmetic products in the US be free from any traceable amounts of asbestos.
Some concerns regarding potential links between cancer and talcum powder have focused on the following:
- Whether or not people have experienced long-term exposure to talc in the workplace. Talc miners are at an increased risk of developing lung cancer from breathing the particles in.
- Whether or not women who regularly applied talcum powder to their genital area experienced an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
No Admission of Liability From J&J
Johnson & Johnson’s federal criminal investigation uncovered how much information they knew about its talcum powder products’ safety. According to an April disclosure, the investigation involved 41 states that sold their baby powder, along with a separate investigation conducted by a Congressional subcommittee regarding the safety and health risks of their talc-based consumer products.
In response to evidence presented in media reports and the court regarding asbestos contamination, the company has maintained that their talc products are safe to use and do not cause cancer.
Kim Montagnino, a Johnson & Johnson spokesperson, said in a statement that lawsuits could be settled under certain circumstances without admitting liability, which doesn’t change their position about their products’ safety. She went on to say that their position is supported by scientific evidence.
“Our talc doesn’t cause cancer or contain asbestos. It’s completely safe to use.”
Cases have been brought against Johnson & Johnson from the Lanier Law Firm, Simon Greenstone Panatier PC, and Simmons Hanly Conroy. In 2018, a famous mass-torts attorney, Mark Lanier, won a $4.7 billion settlement against the company. On appeal, the settlement was cut down to $2.1 billion. Lanier argued that the company was aware of internal tests which showed that the asbestos in the talc powder was linked to mesothelioma, and did not disclose this information to the public for over 40 years. The much larger verdict wasn’t addressed in the Lanier settlement, which Johnson & Johnson has appealed for a second time. Still, it resolves most of the firm’s remaining mesothelioma and ovarian cancer cases against the company.
Johnson & Johnson’s Strategic Decision to Settle the Lawsuits
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said the company is trying to stay on top of the current cases in front of them. While they are reluctant to settle lawsuits in court, this kind of push is part of their strategy and is not considered a desperate sign.
According to Tobias, a deadline for future talcum powder lawsuits was created after the company’s talc products were swapped for cornstarch in North America to quantify the company’s exposure.
According to a securities filing in July, Johnson & Johnson said that the company has an accrual established to cover defense costs. The company also has additional unspecified reserves set aside for mesothelioma cases currently pending and for potential settlements.
This month in the upcoming California trial, Rosalino Reyes III said that his asbestos-linked cancer diagnosis in 2019 was caused by his 50-year use of the company’s baby powder. Opening arguments via video conference will be held on October 13, according to attorneys.
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