Johnson & Johnson wants a federal bankruptcy judge to take over more than 2,400 talc lawsuits. If the federal judge takes the case, they would deny victims their right to pursue justice in state courts. Collecting the suits before a federal judge in Delaware would be an injustice to the victims and their families. This is a desperate move to avoid accountability for J&J’s wrongdoing and its lack of concern for its victims.
Passing the Buck
J&J seeks to invoke legal protections available in bankruptcy without declaring bankruptcy. The company’s talc supplier, Imerys Talc America Inc., invoked that protection. As reported, Imerys sought Chapter 11 protection in the bankruptcy court in February.
Normally, J&J would not be entitled to demand state-court litigation be halted or transferred to federal court. In order to do so, the company would have to file for bankruptcy protection. However, J&J claims that a special bankruptcy law provision allows Imerys creditors with significant financial ties to the talc miner to make the request to promote “expeditious resolution of claims.”
Thousands of Claims
J&J faces over 14,000 claims its talc products caused ovarian cancer or mesothelioma, a rare cancer linked to asbestos exposure. In spite of scientific evidence and many internal documents that clearly show that J&J has known its talc products cause cancer for decades, the company denies its products ever contained carcinogens. The company further argues that talc on its own doesn’t cause the life-threatening illnesses.
Courts have consolidated more than 11,000 of those suits in multidistrict litigation (MDL) before a federal judge in New Jersey for pre-trial information exchanges. J&J’s request aims to set up a similar but smaller concentration of the state court cases in Delaware federal court. J&J faces more than a dozen trials, primarily in California, over the next five months.
Chuck Tatelbaum, a Florida-based lawyer with experience in mass tort cases that wound up in bankruptcy court, has said:
“I think the chances a judge in Delaware is going to add another 2,400 cases to that court’s docket are pretty remote. This move is a bit of a stretch.”
Chuck Tatelbaum is not involved in the J&J litigation.
It appears that J&J isn’t seeking to bring to Delaware cases that have already gone to trial or are in the jury-selection process. Also, J&J isn’t including any verdicts on appeal as part of the requested transfer.
This move by J&J is just another desperate attempt by the company to avoid having state-court juries see first-hand their internal documents and be able to review the results of scientific studies. This is an effort to hide the talc products’ health risks. In the talc litigation, lawyers have discovered documents that clearly show J&J knew in 1970 that talc could cause ovarian cancer.
The internal documents also reveal asbestos was present in the talc and that it could cause cancer in users. In fact, since 2006, talc containers received by J&J from the mining company bear a label that warns of the risk of ovarian cancer from genital use. Johnson and Johnson has never passed that warning on to consumers.
Our lawyers will resist this desperate move by J&J and I believe the public will be outraged over J&J’s conduct. The higher court should definitely remand the cases, and soon. J&J’s real motive may have been to avoid several trials that are set and ready to go.