J&J Cites ‘Progress’ Settling Baby Powder Cancer Cases

By Jef Feeley | December 7, 2023

Johnson & Johnson said it’s moving forward to resolve lawsuits that claim its talc-based Baby Powder causes cancer to avoid facing some jury trials next year and further its strategy of finding a global settlement for thousands of cases.

“We have made recent progress over the last few weeks in resolving” groups of cases handled by law firms representing consumers who allege they developed mesothelioma from baby powder tainted by asbestos, Eric Haas, J&J’s in-house lawyer overseeing the talc litigation, told investors Tuesday during a meeting at the New York Stock Exchange.

Bloomberg News reported Monday that a trio of law firms have reached agreements for mesothelioma settlements covering about 100 cases, according to people familiar with the deals. The financial size of the accords is being kept private, according to the people, who declined to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

At the meeting, Haas pointed to investors’ “interest in resolving the talc litigation” and said the settlements are part of the company’s strategy for corralling the decade-long talc litigation. Haas didn’t identify the firms with whom J&J has settled. The session’s main focus was on the company’s long-term growth outlook and product pipeline.

“Our intention with talc is to bring resolution to these cases so we can spend our days” advancing treatment for our patients, J&J Chief Executive Officer Joaquin Duato told investors at the session.

Cancer Risk

The company faces more than 50,000 suits accusing it of concealing the cancer risk of baby powder to protect its iconic product. Most of those claims are from women with ovarian cancer. The majority of the cases are consolidated before a federal judge in New Jersey. Courts have twice rejected J&J’s attempts to use the bankruptcy system to force a $9 billion talc settlement by setting up a trust to pay victims.

J&J contends that its talc-based products don’t cause cancer and it has marketed Baby Powder appropriately for more than 100 years.

But in 2020, the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company pulled its talc-based powders off the market in the US and Canada, citing slipping sales. The world’s largest maker of health-care products replaced talcum with a cornstarch-based version. J&J vowed to remove all its baby powders containing talcum powder worldwide by the end of this year.

The settlements recently reached with plaintiffs’ law firms included a case that was already on trial in state court in Oakland, California, in November and will head off trials that were supposed to start in January and March in state court in New Jersey, the people said. J&J still faces a mesothelioma case in state court in Minnesota later this month, the people said.

Meanwhile, J&J asked the New Jersey federal judge to remove lawyer Andy Birchfield as head of the plaintiffs’ steering committee and bar him from representing talc claimants, alleging that he’s forged an alliance with a former company attorney and had access to confidential information.

Birchfield responded in an email by accusing the company of “another misguided attempt to silence thousands of ovarian-cancer victims and their families.”

The consolidated case is In Re Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Products Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, 16-md-2738, US District Court, District of New Jersey (Trenton).

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