MDL Panel To Consider Centralizating Johnson & Johnson Sunscreen Lawsuits Before One Federal Judge

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) will hold oral arguments next month to consider whether all federal lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson over Neutrogeno and Aveeno sunscreen products should be consolidated before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.

Johnson & Johnson faces a growing number of sunscreen lawsuits brought throughout the federal court system, after it was discovered that certain aerosol spray products contained cancer-causing chemicals.

There are currently at least eight complaints filed in different U.S. District Courts nationwide, each raising similar allegations that Johnson & Johnson endangered consumers’ health by not warning them of the presence of benzene in brands of Neutrogena and Aveeno spray sunscreen, which could increase their risk of cancer.

Plaintiffs filed a motion to centralized the suncreen litigation on July 29, asking the U.S. JPML to transfer all cases to one U.S. District Judge in the District of New Jersey for pretrial proceedings, to avoid duplicative discovery and conflicting rulings from different judges as the number of cases grows.

In a Notice of Hearing Session (PDF) issued on August 13, the panel scheduled oral arguments on the motion for September 30, at the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri. Unlike most previous sessions over the last year and half, this one will be held in person, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, the JPML noted it reserved the right to switch to videoconference or teleconference if the situation at that time merits it.

In complex product liability litigation, where a large number of claims are filed throughout the federal court system by individuals who suffered similar injuries as a result of the same product, it is common for the federal court system to centralize the litigation for pretrial proceedings. However, if settlements are not reached during discovery or following a series of early “bellwether” trials, each claim may later be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed to go before a jury.

Neutrogena and Aveeno Spray Sunscreen Concerns

Johnson & Johnson announced the Neutrogena and Aveeno sunscreen recall on July 14, after routine sample testing identified the presence of benzene, which is a chemical classified as a human carcinogen, depending on level and extent of exposure.

Benzene is an industrial chemical that has been associated with the development of several fatal forms of cancer, leukemia and other conditions, such as AML, Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL), Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Multiple Myeloma, Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDL), Myelofibrosis and Myeloid Metaplasia, Aplastic Anemia and Thrombocytopenic Purpura.

Due to the potential health risks, the FDA indicates benzene should not be included in drug or consumer products, if avoidable. However, if benzene is not avoidable, it should be restricted to 2 parts per million (ppm), FDA regulations state. However, testing suggests that levels of benzene in the Neutrogena and Aveeno sunscreen may substantially exceed the permissible levels.

Long-term side effects of benzene exposure have been proven to cause anemia, which is a condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Essentially, the chemical causes bone marrow not to produce enough red blood cells, which can damage an individual’s immune system. Federal regulators have determined long-term exposure to benzene can significantly impact blood cells, to the extent it causes cancer such as leukemia, a cancer of the blood-forming organs.

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