For decades, baby powder was viewed as Johnson & Johnson’s flagship product. The company started selling baby powder with talc in it all the way back in 1894, only eight years after the company was founded.
However, Johnson & Johnson’s century-plus history of marketing talc-based baby powder is now over as several crushing jury verdicts have made selling the product a high-risk proposition. Juries have found the pharmaceutical giant’s product responsible for cases of cancer and have ordered the company to pay billions of dollars in damages.
Juries Have Issued Large Talc Powder Verdicts
Whether or not talc powder is a carcinogen has been something that has been the subject of much debate in the past several decades. The deciding factor here is that juries seem to think so. Not only that, but juries have been outraged by what they see as a corporate bad actor putting profits ahead of people.
The issue with talc powder is that the product has been found to contain asbestos. This is something that Johnson & Johnson has long denied as it continued to sell the product. Decades ago research was released that detailed the connection between talc and asbestos.
The two elements occurred naturally near each other in the ground. Thus, when talc was mined, it contained traces of asbestos since the two often became intertwined due to their proximity.
Johnson & Johnson Has Allegedly Known About Asbestos in Talc Powder for Years
Numerous scholarly papers were released that backed up the initial claims. In this regard, the paper trail does not look very good for Johnson & Johnson. Lawsuits have alleged that researchers from Mt. Sinai in New York first informed Johnson & Johnson that their talc powder contained asbestos all the way back in 1971. Even prior to that, there was research that connected talc with asbestos.
A 2018 Reuters investigation showed the extent of what Johnson & Johnson knew, and the overall picture is not pretty. After Mt. Sinai informed Johnson & Johnson in 1971 that the talc powder contained asbestos, there were a series of tests performed over the next several years. Each of the three tests showed that there was asbestos in the talc, and one test had very high levels.
There were numerous tests over a three-decade period that turned up traces of asbestos. However, instead of informing regulators, pulling the product or informing the public, Johnson & Johnson simply worried about how to respond to any allegations about its product.
The company was seemingly more concerned about sales than safety. In fact, Johnson & Johnson engaged in a lengthy defense of its product in an attempt to convince the public that it was safe. However, the documentation suggests that the company may have known otherwise.
The $4.69 Billion Verdict against Johnson & Johnson in Missouri
It was against this backdrop that juries heard cases involving the talc powder. One of the most devastating blows against Johnson & Johnson was landed by a jury in a Missouri courtroom.
22 women had filed lawsuits against the company, claiming that their ovarian cancer was caused by the use of talc powder over a prolonged period of time. The jury heard much of the evidence that was detailed in the Reuters report.
The jury came back with a stunning verdict of a total of $4.69 billion for these plaintiffs. Johnson & Johnson is currently appealing this verdict in Missouri. Many of these staggering punitive damages awards end up being reduced on appeal. However, even a reduced damages award threatens the company since there are many talc powder lawsuits pending.
Johnson & Johnson has had a mixed record in defending against talc powder cases. The company has prevailed in some cases and has succeeded in having verdicts overturned in others. However, there is little dispute that talc powder will be a legal headache for the company for a long time to come.
The FDA Tests Talc Powder Samples
Perhaps the final straw for sales of Johnson & Johnson’s talc powder was when the FDA released test results that confirmed what many already knew; that talc powder contained asbestos. The agency tested numerous samples of the product to ensure that it had a larger sample size.
However, it is important to note that not every test for asbestos resulted in a positive. In fact, 43 out of the 52 samples showed no asbestos. However, for consumers who do use an asbestos-tainted product, the results can still be deadly.
Johnson & Johnson agreed to recall the lot that was at issue in the FDA’s tests. However, for the pharmaceutical giant, the rest of the approach was still the same. The company hired its own tester to analyze the same samples that the FDA scrutinized. Johnson & Johnson’s test results showed a different finding, according to the company.
In other words, Johnson & Johnson simply would not accept or admit the fact that talc powder contains asbestos.
To the FDA’s credit, it did not let Johnson & Johnson off the hook with just one test. The agency pledged to continue testing talc powder throughout 2020 to check whether it was tainted with asbestos. This problem was obviously not going away for the company anytime in the near future.
Johnson & Johnson Pulls Talc Powder
For Johnson & Johnson, talc powder sales may have been a matter where the rewards did not outweigh the continued risks of selling the product. While a generation of people may have associated Johnson & Johnson with baby powder, the company has become a diversified conglomerate that draws more than half of its revenues from its pharmaceutical division.
At this point, between the fact that talc powder had drawn all of the negative publicity and that younger generations do not use the product to the same extent, this particular product amounted to less than one percent of the company’s consumer health revenues.
It certainly did not merit the risk of further jury verdicts when Johnson & Johnson’s liability could reach into the billions.
Johnson & Johnson’s Legal Troubles
This is far from the only legal problem that Johnson & Johnson is facing right now. The company has recently dealt with or is currently defending against the following allegations:
The company has numerous verdicts against it in Risperdal product liability lawsuits claiming that the product caused male breast growth
State attorneys general and local jurisdictions have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson related to the opioid crisis. The company was assessed a large penalty by an Oklahoma court.
The Physiomesh hernia mesh trials are just beginning.
There is still ongoing litigation relating to the pelvic mesh products that were pulled from the market.
Contact the attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers if you have been diagnosed with cancer after using Johnson & Johnson’s talc powder. Your initial consultation is free and you owe us nothing unless we are able to help you recover for your injuries.