Just two weeks after a California jury awarded a dying woman $29 million having decided that asbestos in talc used in Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder caused her to develop mesothelioma, the corporation finished an active month with a mixed record overall.
Three cases alleging the same link were waiting to be heard in state courts in Oklahoma, New York, and California. They were settled under confidential terms with the world’s largest healthcare goods manufacturer stating only that “there are one-off situations where settlement is reasonable.”
This statement, as small as it is, represents a sharp contrast to the vehement; almost aggressive, denials of wrongdoing that have been the status quo for J&J’s previous defenses of its Baby Powder product. The statement continued and erased any notion of these settlements signaling any sort of shift in strategy. “We do not have any organized program to settle Johnson’s Baby Powder cases, nor are we planning a settlement program.”
The settlements were tempered by news out of New Jersey where a jury unanimously cleared J&J of any wrongdoing in the case of Ricardo Rimondi. Rimondi and his wife, like so many others, alleged that asbestos in the talc in Johnson & Johnson products like Baby Powder and Shower to Shower caused him to develop mesothelioma. Jurors in that case took just 30 minutes to decide that they didn’t agree.
As we finish the first quarter of 2019, Johnson & Johnson still faces some 13,000 lawsuits alleging a link between its talc products and either mesothelioma or ovarian cancer. The corporation has been found to be not liable in four trials, liable in three, and five juries have been unable to reach a conclusion. And, while their record in fending off such lawsuits has thus far proven them to be capable, the damage to the image of the company who brought us things like “no tears” baby shampoo and other staples of American family life has been profound. Reports like the bombshell investigation by Reuters that prove, using internal Johnson & Johnson documents, that the company was indeed aware of the presence of asbestos in the talc it was mining haven’t helped.
Investors, medical professionals, the legal community, and families across the country will be watching intently as the next quarter brings yet another chapter to a saga that has rocked one of the world’s most wholesome brands.