“In litigation of every nature, there are one-off situations where settlement is a reasonable alternative.” This was the cover Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Kim Montagnino chose to hide behind after the corporation settled the talc-based asbestos case of California plaintiff Linda O’Hagan for $2 million. According to those familiar with the dealings, the offer to settle was made by Johnson & Johnson and was subsequently accepted by the plaintiff.
The notion of settlement as a “reasonable alternative” is a far cry from the vehement and almost confrontational zeal with which the corporation has defended the safety of its talc-based products in the past. After losing a separate California asbestos case earlier last year to the tune of $29 million, a J&J spokesperson offered a refrain that has become so common that it can almost be recited from memory. “We are disappointed with today’s verdict and will pursue an appeal,” the spokesperson said, “because Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer.”
Significant evidence to the contrary has come to light since the possibility was first raised that talc-based powders could be doing more harm than just causing ovarian cancer in long-time users of products like Shower to Shower. Revelations that not only was Johnson & Johnson aware of the presence of the long-known carcinogen in its powders for decades, but also went to great lengths to conceal that fact have decimated the reputation of a company that has staked much of its public persona on being worthy of the trust of America’s families.
J&J’s denials in the face of such damning evidence eventually drew the attention of the United States Department of Justice. The department launched a criminal probe of the world’s largest healthcare goods manufacturer last year as news broke that a grand jury had been convened to review the matter. Additionally, the public learned late last year that the FDA – the very agency tasked with ensuring the safety of the healthcare products brought into American homes – was effectively working with the talc industry to make it easier for them to expose families to dangerous asbestos. Having bowed to their corporate overlords for over 50 years, officials at the FDA met with talc executives and their Johnson & Johnson counterparts in late 2018 at a Washington, D.C. conference whose very name was a slap in the face to every American who ever trusted the agency or J&J with their safety – it was the “Asbestos in Talc Symposium.”
17,000 lawsuits currently accuse J&J of covering up the presence of asbestos in its talc-based powders. The deception, however, could have exposed millions to a powerful carcinogen that is known to cause a lethal form of lung cancer. This latest settlement could indeed be the first drops of water that seep through a dam just before it breaks apart and finally gives way. And, if that’s the case, the corporation and the agency that worked so hard to protect it for so long deserve to be absolutely devastated by the subsequent flood.