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Both the Justice Department and the Security Exchange Commission (SEC) have issued subpoena’s to Johnson & Johnson, following the emergence of evidence uncovered through Johnson’s Baby Powder lawsuits brought by individuals who allege they developed cancer from asbestos in the talc powder.
According to an SEC filing on Wednesday, Johnson & Johnson reported that it received a subpoena from the Justice Department and SEC. It appears that the investigations were launched as a result of recent media reports outlining evidence uncovered in lawsuits over failure to warn the government or consumers about the risk that Johnson & Johnson talc powder products may contain asbestos.
In December 2018, a Reuters report highlighted evidence obtained during the discovery phase of lawsuits against the company, which suggest that Johnson & Johnson knew its talcum powder was contaminated with asbestos as early as the 1950s.
Johnson & Johnson currently faces about 13,000 talcum powder lawsuits, including claims filed on behalf of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer and claims involving consumers who developed mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer that is only known to result from exposure to asbestos.
“The Company is cooperating with these government inquiries and will be producing documents in response,” Johnson & Johnson said in the SEC filing.
According to prior reports, Johnson & Johnson found asbestos in its talc during at least three laboratory tests between 1972 and 1975, but never reported its findings to the FDA. The investigation also found lab reports dating back to 1957 and 1958 that raised concerns about the presence of asbestos in the talcum powder the company was using.
A number of juries who have heard evidence in talcum powder claims against Johnson & Johnson have already returned massive verdicts, often including substantial punitive damages designed to punish the manufacturer for their actions.
In July 2018, a Missouri state jury awarded $4.7 billion to a group of 22 women with ovarian cancer, including punitive damages designed to punish Johnson & Johnson for withholding compelling evidence about the risk associated with their popular products.
In May 2018, a California jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $25.7 million in a talc mesothelioma case. In April, a New Jersey jury awarded $117 million to a man diagnosed with mesothelioma due to exposure from talcum powder. That verdict included $80 million in punitive damages.
In December 2017, a talc powder case went to trial in California, resulted in a jury award of $17.57 million in compensatory damages and $4.6 million in punitive damages, for the family of man who died of mesothelioma in 2016, after years of exposure to talc.
A number of studies published in recent years have highlighted the link between talc powder and mesothelioma, but questions about the risk were first raised by health officials in Baltimore as early as 1972.
In October 2014, a study published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health identified a potential link between an unnamed, but popular, brand of talc powder and asbestos exposure, suggesting that use of the product may have caused the death of at least one unidentified woman due to mesothelioma.
While Johnson & Johnson is pursuing appeals in each of the cases that resulted in a verdict, and is refusing to negotiate talcum powder settlements, some analysts have suggested that the recent verdicts are a sign that juries find Johnson & Johnson’s trial defense lacking in credibility.