In the ongoing talc litigation, in June, as previously reported, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld a verdict that talcum powder had caused ovarian cancer in 22 women. It ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $2.11 billion, reduced from $4.7 billion, and in its opinion found that there was “significant reprehensibility” in Johnson & Johnson’s conduct and that the company’s “exposure of consumers to asbestos…was done with reckless disregard of the health and safety of others.”
Within days of the Missouri decision, New Jersey Superior Court State Judge Ana C. Viscomi denied Johnson & Johnson’s bid to set aside a verdict for $186 million from a jury trial earlier this year. Jurors found that Johnson & Johnson knew its baby powder was contaminated with asbestos but did not provide the information to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Judge Viscomi said jurors could find by “clear and convincing evidence presented” that J&J engaged in a series of misdeeds. Those findings include:
- J&J knew its talc was contaminated with asbestos for decades;
- J&J did not provide that information to the FDA;
- The company advocated for testing methodology “that it knew was not sensitive enough to detect asbestos;”
- J&J lied to the FDA by “editing unfavorable test results from reports;” and
- The company lied to consumers by claiming a cleansing procedure “removed all impurities” from its talc powder products when the company knew it did not remove certain types of asbestos.
In a most profound and significant manner, Judge Viscomi had this to say about J&J’s conduct:
J&J’s conduct here was reprehensible. The award, modified by the Punitive Damages Act, is not so clearly disproportionate to the injury and does not shock the conscience of the court.
Between its ongoing talcum powder lawsuits and its role in the opioid crisis, Johnson & Johnson’s legal exposure is growing, with no end in sight. While the company had a total revenue of $82.1 billion with a profit of $15.1 billion in 2019, there are more than 19,000 lawsuits currently pending related to talcum powder products.
Aside from its talc-related issue, Johnson & Johnson is also defending its role in the opioid crisis in multiple states. A judge in Oklahoma ordered the company to pay $465 million for its contribution to that state’s opioid crisis. While Oklahoma has a rate of 7.8 opioid-related deaths per 100,000 people, that number is low compared to some states. Washington, with a death rate of 9.4, filed a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, as has West Virginia, with a death rate of 42.4. Larger awards to Plaintiffs as well as the increasing number of lawsuits Johnson & Johnson faces could impact the company’s stock prices or even dividends in the near future.
This story appears in the August 2020 issue of The Jere Beasley Report. For more like this, visit the Report online and subscribe.