Johnson & Johnson (“J&J”) has agreed to pay out $100 million to settle 1000 baby powder litigation cases. An estimated 20,000 other baby powder cases are still pending. Talc, a substance used in J&J’s baby powder and adult powder products, has been tied to both ovarian cancer in women and mesothelioma. This move toward settlement signals J&J’s desire to get ahead of the pending litigation.

Johnson & Johnson’s Previous Litigation Strategy

Until October 2020, J&J had faced individual plaintiff’s cases rather than look toward more global resolution. The talcum powder cases have been ongoing for the past 4 years.

In cases that have gone to trial, J&J has racked up some large losses. Juries have been generous with plaintiffs seeking redress.

In 2017, a Los Angeles jury awarded $417 million. This was followed in 2018 with a jury award of $4.7 billion to a group of plaintiffs. This amount was reduced to $2.12 billion on appeal.

Recalls Made After FDA Testing Found Asbestos

J&J continues to assert that their products containing talc are safe, and do not cause cancer or mesothelioma. However, in 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found a type of asbestos in the company’s popular baby powder. Asbestos is a known carcinogen. As a result, in October 2019, Johnson & Johnson recalled over 30,000 baby powder bottles.

Replacement of Talc With Cornstarch Signals End of Exposure to Liability

J&J has replaced the talc with cornstarch for the Canadian and American markets. Their decision to substitute cornstarch for talc also represents an end point for liability exposure.

The Covid19 court closures have given Johnson & Johnson a hiatus during which to explore possible settlement before the next trial begins later this month in California.

Some of these lawsuits coming to trial are brought by factory workers exposed to asbestos through the talc products. These workers are now suffering from mesothelioma.

Settlement: J&J’s Change in Litigation Strategy

Historically, Johnson & Johnson has resisted settling these types of product liability cases. Their push to do so now represents a change in strategy to handle the expected flood of cases.

Internal J&J documents indicate that company executives have known about the problem with trace asbestos for years. J&J has never notified the public about the problem. Talc and asbestos tend to be located near one another. When talc is mined, it can become contaminated with asbestos.

The company’s decision to settle these cases represents a shift that will enable plaintiffs to collect for damages without having to go trial individually. Johnson & Johnson’s plans for settlement of the approximately other 20,000 cases associated with their products is unclear at this time. However, it is estimated that it may cost Johnson & Johnson as much as $10 billion to settle the remaining 20,000 cases.

Most of these cases involve women suffering from ovarian cancer or their survivors. A growing percentage of these cases involve mesothelioma.

These Cases Require Specialized Representation

Cases against Johnson & Johnson continue to be filed. It is not too late to file a baby powder case against the company. However, these cases require experienced representation by attorneys who specialize in mass torts. These cases require expert scientific evaluation and attorneys who work in this area have access to the expert help that plaintiffs need.

J&J’s movement toward settlement signals a shift in their handling of these cases. While not admitting liability, creating a fund to pay out plaintiffs’ claims is a distinct move toward resolution of its exposure to liability in these cases. Plaintiffs may finally see some satisfaction of their claims against the company.