After four years of litigation between plaintiffs and Johnson & Johnson, the multinational corporation agreed to the first set of major settlements. The agreement to pay $100 million will resolve more than 1,000 lawsuits in which plaintiffs allege that the talc in Johnson & Johnson’s signature baby powder causes cancer, according to a Bloomberg report. This settlement marks the first to come from almost 20,000 lawsuits.
A Brief Timeline of Recent Events
A December 2018 investigative news report from Reuters revealed that Johnson & Johnson had known that the talc used in its baby powder was “sometimes tainted” with asbestos, a known human carcinogen. The report further announced that Johnson & Johnson withheld this information from the public and from regulators.
Specifically, Johnson & Johnson failed to inform the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that between 1972 and 1975, three tests conducted by three different labs detected asbestos in the talc ingredients the company used to make its talcum baby powder. In fact, documents show that at a time when the FDA was considering limiting asbestos in cosmetic talc products, Johnson & Johnson actively assured the agency that asbestos was not detected in any sample of the baby powder it produced between 1972 and 1973, conveniently omitting the three test results from 1972 to 1975 that did indicate the presence of asbestos, according to Reuters’ report.
In October 2019, after trace amounts of asbestos were detected in the talc baby powder, the company recalled 33,000 bottles of the product.
The company continues to insist that its product is safe, but they discontinued U.S. and Canada sales of talc powder in May 2020, replacing it with a cornstarch formula in the U.S. and Canada. A corporate statement assured that the move did not reflect the product’s safety, but rather served as a strategic response to declining sales stemming from “changes in consumer habits” that were “fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising.”
The Lawsuits Continue
Johnson & Johnson faces thousands of lawsuits filed by people who claim they developed either ovarian cancer or mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos in the company’s talc products.
Another case, this one filed by a man who says he used Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder for 50 years and has since been diagnosed with asbestos-linked cancer, will commence with remote opening statements on October 13, 2020.
According to Bloomberg Intelligence, Johnson & Johnson could end up paying up to $10 billion to settle all the outstanding cases against the company for these talc-asbestos claims.