Imerys SA has agreed to sell several North American units in order to resolve allegations that the company’s raw talc was tainted with cancer-causing asbestos.
Imerys was a major talc supplier to Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of Baby Powder and Shower-to Shower. Since 2014, however, the company’s North American units have been named co-defendants in roughly 14,000 lawsuits filed on behalf of consumers who allegedly developed ovarian cancer or mesothelioma due to the long-term use of Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products.
In 2018, Imerys agreed to pay $5.5 million to settle a talcum powder lawsuit filed on behalf of 22 ovarian cancer victims or their surviving loved ones, thereby avoiding a trial that resulted in a $4.7 billion verdict against Johnson & Johnson. The North American units — Imerys Talc America, Imerys Talc Vermont and Imerys Talc Canada – sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection later that year, after company executives determined they lacked “the financial wherewithal to remain in the tort system.”
According to Bloomberg News, proceeds from the sale of those three units will fund a trust to compensate talc victims. In return, talcum powder plaintiffs will dismiss their claims against Imerys, allowing the businesses to emerge from bankruptcy. The plan also makes provisions to compensate talcum powder users who develop cancer in the future.
The agreement does not affect the status of nearly 20,000 talcum powder lawsuits that remain pending against Johnson & Johnson in courts throughout the United States. In fact, the judge presiding over more than 16,000 ovarian cancer cases that have been consolidated in New Jersey federal court recently rejected the company’s bid to exclude plaintiffs’ expert testimony, paving the way for those lawsuits to proceed towards bellwether trials.
Plaintiffs claim that Johnson & Johnson has known since the 1970s that the raw talc used to manufacture Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower could contain traces of asbestos, but failed to warn consumers and continued to market the products as safe and effective for personal hygiene. The company has won about half of the talcum powder trials convened so far, while plaintiffs have been awarded millions in damages at the conclusion others. Several plaintiffs’ verdicts have been overturned on appeal.
Johnson & Johnson has also reached undisclosed settlements in a handful of talcum powder lawsuits. However, the company has not indicated any willingness to enter into a global settlement that would finally bring the massive litigation to an end.