The massive talcum powder cancer litigation was evidently responsible for a large chunk of Johnson & Johnson’s legal costs last year.
According to the company’s most recent earnings report, Johnson & Johnson saw its total litigation costs double during the 4th quarter of 2018, to $1.29 billion. For the full year, costs associated with product liability lawsuits and other legal matters rose to $1.9 billion from $1.3 billion in 2017.
In an email to Reuters, a Johnson & Johnson spokesperson acknowledged that 10% of that outlay – close to $200 million – went to defending talcum powder lawsuits
Johnson & Johnson is facing more than 11,000 talcum powder cancer lawsuits currently pending in courts throughout the United States. Initially, most of these claims were brought by women who allegedly developed ovarian cancer after using Baby Powder or Shower-to-Shower for feminine hygiene. However, a growing number of cases now allege that asbestos-tainted talc caused either ovarian cancer or mesothelioma.
Since 2016, more than a dozen Johnson & Johnson talcum powder lawsuits have gone to trial in courts throughout the country. Plaintiffs have won eight cases so far, with verdicts ranging from $4.7 million to $25 million. However, some verdicts were later overturned.
Four juries have found for Johnson & Johnson, while mistrials were declared in three cases
On December 18th, the company settled a talcum powder mesothelioma lawsuit for the first time. Were it not for the settlement, the case would have gone to trial this month in the notoriously plaintiff-friendly New York City Asbestos Litigation (NYCAL).
According Bloomberg.com, many more Johnson & Johnson talcum powder lawsuits are scheduled to head to trial in 2019.
Overall, 2018 was not a great year for Johnson & Johnson or its popular talc-based powders.
Probably the most damaging blow came in December, when a Reuters investigation suggested company executives knew for decades that its raw-talc could be tainted with asbestos.
That’s because Johnson & Johnson has occasionally commissioned outside labs to test its raw talc for the cancer-causing material. Although the majority of tests conducted from the early 1970s through the 2000’s were negative, small amounts of asbestos did turn up in few
Testing conducted at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in 1971 also found traces of asbestos in Baby Powder, as did testing done at Rutgers University in 1991. A scientist at the University of Minnesota detected asbestos in a sample of Shower-to-Shower in 1972.
Internal company documents obtained by Reuters show the asbestos findings worried many at Johnson & Johnson. But out of concern for the company’s “caring” image, they took no action to inform regulators or the public.
As if that weren’t enough, Johnson & Johnson also worked to influence regulatory efforts aimed at limiting asbestos in talc-based cosmetics, as well as research into the health effects of talc.
For its part, Johnson & Johnson vehemently denies that its raw talc ever contained asbestos or caused either ovarian cancer or mesothelioma. Despite the high costs associated with the ongoing talcum powder cancer litigation, the company has vowed to continue vigorously defending itself in court.