Johnson & Johnson wants a federal bankruptcy judge to take over more than 2,400 talc lawsuits and thereby deny victims their right to pursue justice in state courts. This is a desperate move to avoid accountability for J&J’s wrongdoing and its lack of concern for victims of that wrongdoing. J&J seeks to invoke legal protections available in bankruptcy without declaring bankruptcy. That protection was invoked by talc supplier Imerys Talc America Inc., which declared bankruptcy. To collect suits accusing J&J’s talc products of causing cancers before a single judge in Delaware would be an injustice to all of the victims and their families. As reported, Imerys sought Chapter 11 protection in the bankruptcy court in February.
Because it hasn’t filed for bankruptcy protection, J&J would normally not be entitled to demand state-court litigation be halted or transferred to a federal court. But 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.”
J&J is facing more than 14,000 claims that its talc products caused ovarian cancer or mesothelioma, a rare cancer linked to asbestos exposure. In spite of scientific evidence and a huge number of internal documents that clearly show that J&J has known for decades its talc products cause cancer, the company denies its products ever contained carcinogens and argues talc on its own doesn’t cause the life-threatening illnesses.
More than 11,000 of those suits filed in federal courts around the U.S. already have been consolidated 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.
“I think the chances a judge in Delaware is going to add another 2,400 cases to that court’s docket are pretty remote,” said Chuck Tatelbaum, a Florida-based lawyer who has been involved in mass tort cases that wound up in bankruptcy court. “This move is a bit of a stretch,” said Tatelbaum, who isn’t 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 had been found in talc used in the product 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. That warning has never been passed 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 cases should definitely be remanded and hopefully soon. J&J’s real motive may have been to avoid several trials that are set and ready to go.