The CEO of Johnson & Johnson took the witness stand yesterday, testifying for the first time in a trial involving the alleged link between Baby Powder and cancer.
According to Reuters, Alex Gorsky faced tough questions on a stock sale he initiated shortly after one of the organization’s reporters asked the company about internal documents that indicated Johnson & Johnson officials were aware the raw talc used in Baby Powder had periodically tested positive for traces of asbestos since 1971.
The results of Reuter’s investigation were published in December 2018, triggering a sell-off of Johnson & Johnson’s shares that wiped out about $40 billion from the company’s market value.
Gorsky sold $36 million worth of Johnson & Johnson shares on November 16th – just two days after the Reuters reporter emailed the company.
Johnson & Johnson is defending more than 16,000 talcum powder lawsuits nationwide that blame Baby Power for causing cancer.
Last year, jurors in New Jersey’s Middlesex County Superior Court ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $37.5 million to four plaintiffs who claim asbestos-tainted Baby Powder was responsible for their mesothelioma. Their attorneys then subpoenaed Gorsky to testify during the punitive damages phase of the trial, which recently got underway before a second jury.
During Monday’s testimony, Gorsky maintained that he was unaware of the Reuter’s email when he decided to sell his shares, insisting that the move was prompted by plans to purchase a house. He also noted that the sale represented less than 10% of his Johnson & Johnson holdings, and pointed out the shares would be worth far more today had he held on to them.
Reuters, however, was unable to independently confirm the home purchase.
Gorsky also stated that he relied on Johnson & Johnson’s experts when he went on national TV to insist Baby Powder was safe and didn’t contain asbestos.
“I was told by the experts in their fields that we were using the most appropriate, most up-to-date technology to make sure our talc was safe,” he stated.
However, Gorsky did acknowledge that he can no longer make that claim, as testing conducted by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has since detected sub-traces of asbestos in a single bottle of Baby Powder. Those findings prompted Johnson & Johnson to issue a recall for 33,000 bottles of Baby Powder last September.
Gorsky also told the jury he did not read all internal company documents related to asbestos in Baby Powder, including those cited by Reuters.
“I did not read all the documents, but I would rely on the experts in these fields,” Gorsky testified.