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Johnson & Johnson (J&J) recently settled three different lawsuits concerning in which plaintiffs alleged that its talc-based products caused cancer. Though the company denied that it is entering into a settlement program to resolve the thousands of other similar lawsuits, it remains to be seen how it will approach the more than 24 trials that are set for 2019.

Johnson & Johnson Settles Several Talc-Cancer Lawsuits

The three cases settled recently include:

  1. A 77-year-old woman claimed that after using J&J’s talc-based products, she developed peritoneal mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the abdomen). Her case was pending in Oklahoma City when it was settled for an undisclosed amount.
  2. A 36-year-old woman claimed that after using J&J’s talc-based products since she was a child, including their baby powder, she developed mesothelioma. The parties reached a confidential settlement, cutting short a trial in Los Angeles.
  3. A 41-year-old woman suffering from peritoneal mesothelioma claimed that J&J’s feminine hygiene products caused the cancer. She had an expert ready to testify that he found asbestos and talc in the plaintiff’s ovarian and fallopian tissue. The trial was scheduled to start on April 9 in New York, but a settlement was reached before that date.

The company reached its first settlement—prior to these three—with a 78-year-old woman who claimed that J&J’s baby powder caused her to develop mesothelioma. She named J&J and its talc supplier, Imerys, as defendants in the lawsuit. The parties reached a $1.5 million settlement agreement on January 3, 2019. Imerys Talc America Inc. recently sought bankruptcy protection to deal with the growing wave of lawsuits involving their products.

J&J currently faces over 13,000 lawsuits concerning its talc-based products and cancer.

J&J Failed to Reveal Testing Results that Indicated Asbestos Contamination

In December 2018, Reuters reported that J&J knew for decades that its baby powder contained asbestos, a natural mineral known to be a human carcinogen.

Since the 1920s, asbestos has been linked to mesothelioma—a rare cancer caused by asbestos fibers that lodge in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart. When inhaled or ingested, the microscopic asbestos fibers can work their way into human tissues, and over a long period of time (10-50 years), can cause inflammation and scarring that eventually develop into cancerous tumors.

Reuters investigated J&J company documents and discovered that J&J was aware that its talc powder was sometimes tainted with asbestos. Yet the company failed to disclose that information to government regulators or the public.

With the rising number of lawsuits filed, J&J had to produce thousands of pages of company memos and reports. These documents, along with trial testimony, revealed that from 1971 until at least the early 2000s, some of J&J’s raw materials and finished products tested positive for small amounts of asbestos.

Talc and asbestos often occur together in the earth, so when talc is mined, it can be contaminated with asbestos. Between 1972 and 1975, at least three tests from three different labs found asbestos in J&J’s talc. Yet the company has always maintained that its products are asbestos-free and continues to maintain that its products are safe despite its knowledge of the study results for decades.

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