J&J Says No Legal Reserves Needed Amid Wave of Lawsuits

Johnson & Johnson won’t set aside any legal reserves for the more than 100,000 lawsuits it faces across its portfolio of drugs, consumer products and medical devices, saying it expects to fight and win many of the claims.

The company has spent $832 million on litigation expenses this year, and outside estimates of damages from lawsuits over opioids, psychiatric drugs, talc powder and medical devices range in the tens of billions of dollars. While several large verdicts have attracted headlines, J&J Chief Financial Officer Joseph Wolk said the company expects to fight and win many of the thousands of cases.

“Right now if you think about some of the cases that are out there, they are likely subject to our prevailing on appeal,” Wolk said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “There’s nothing to book, nothing to accrue. It wouldn’t even meet the accounting standards.”

Setting aside legal reserves is an accounting matter, and companies don’t typically include them until they believe they can be reasonably estimated.

The lawsuits have overshadowed the company’s otherwise robust business results. J&J reported third-quarter earnings Tuesday and raised its full-year profit forecast after beating analysts’ estimates, thanks to growing sales in its drug unit and what it touted as strong results in medical devices. But the shares are still well-off their 52-week high in December.

“Investors are starting to come around. They’re starting to get an appreciation, a better certainty around the level of risk that actually is within the stock,” Wolk said.

J&J was up 2.3% to $133.72 at 10:26 a.m. in New York. The New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company’s stock has gained 1.3% this year as of Monday’s close.

Third-quarter adjusted earnings were $2.12 a share, the company said in a statement, topping the $2.01 average of analysts’ estimates. The company raised its 2019 adjusted earnings forecast to $8.62 to $8.67 a share, up from $8.53 to $8.63. It’s the second raise this year.

Profit was up from a year before, with net earnings of $4.83 billion in the third quarter, versus $3.93 billion a year prior.

The company’s pharmaceutical unit grew 5.1% despite U.S. pricing pressures and competition to blockbuster immunotherapy drug Remicade and cancer treatment Zytiga. Sales of the two drugs are expected to decline more next year as generic competitor eat into their share, J&J’s Worldwide Chairman of Pharmaceuticals Jennifer Taubert said during a Tuesday call with investors.

The company said its medical device unit had its best quarter since 2015, after accounting for acquisitions, divestitures and currency headwinds.

“I feel pretty confident that our platform will start to get back to the market performance,” said J&J Worldwide Chairman of Medical Devices Ashley McEvoy, pointing to growth among its electrophysiology products and its orthopedics business.


Wolk said the J&J would continue to defend legal claims that it thought it could win.

“The management team here will look at what a reasonable outcome could be for all stakeholders involved,” Wolk said. “When products are safe, when they’re effective, we’re going to look to make sure that those products aren’t subject to what’s become unfortunately a big business model for plaintiff’s attorneys.”

The accusations against the drugmaker are substantial. Last week, a jury ordered J&J to pay $8 billion for wrongfully pushing doctors to prescribe the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal to the elderly and to children — though the verdict is unlikely to be upheld on appeal. In 2013, the company agreed to pay $2.2 billion to resolve civil and criminal claims brought by the U.S. government that it illegally marketed the drug. Some teenage boys who took the pills developed female-sized breasts and sued the company.

The company has also been accused of helping drive the U.S. opioid epidemic, and is one of two dozen companies that have been sued by states, cities and counties. It In March, it lost a lawsuit brought by Oklahoma and was ordered to pay $572 million for wrongfully marketing its pain drugs in the states.

Not even its consumer unit has been immune. More than 15,000 suits claim the company’s talc powder caused different types of cancers because of contamination with asbestos. Amid the scrutiny, J&J has relaunched many products in its baby unit. Sales there have yet to recover, with U.S. revenue in the baby care group down 24% from a year prior, to $91 million.

–With assistance from Jef Feeley.