Johnson & Johnson, facing as many as 13,000 lawsuits that link asbestos in the company’s talc products to the development of cancer, suddenly settled three of those cases on March 27.
The company has a mixed record in defending itself in the talc cases – it has been found liable in some completed cases while others were decided in the company’s favor. One expert called the decision to reach settlements unusual.
Suits allege talc contributed to mesothelioma
The three cases in Oklahoma, New York and California state courts alleged Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based products contained asbestos, which after years of use led the plaintiffs to contract mesothelioma. Johnson & Johnson denies the claims and maintains its products are safe.
Juries in some cases have found in favor of Johnson & Johnson, including in a trial in New Jersey that reached a verdict on the same day the settlements were announced.
Other juries have found in favor of the plaintiffs, including a California verdict in March that hit the company with $29 million in damages and a 2018 verdict in Missouri that led to a $4.69 billion decision for 22 women with ovarian cancer.
More than 25 trials on the issue are scheduled for this year.
Oklahoma trial went to jury
The announcement that a settlement had been reached came after a jury in Oklahoma City spent about three hours deliberating whether Johnson & Johnson was liable in the case of a woman who had developed peritoneal mesothelioma.
Simultaneously, the company announced it reached settlements in a trial that had started in Los Angeles and another trial slated to begin in April in New York.
One expert said Johnson & Johnson is not known for settling cases, so the new development could mean a shift in the company’s litigation strategy.
Johnson & Johnson denies any shift in strategy and stands by its claim that its products are safe.
After the Oklahoma City settlement was announced, one of the jurors said the panel was close to finding Johnson & Johnson liable for contributing to the plaintiff’s mesothelioma. She said she was convinced by internal company memos that alerted executives to the presence of asbestos in the talc products.
In contrast, the jury in New Jersey found that the company’s talc products did not contain asbestos and were not responsible for the plaintiff’s mesothelioma.