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Johnson & Johnson moves forward with $6.475 billion settlement of talc cancer lawsuits

By Reuters

New York (Reuters) — Johnson & Johnson is moving forward with a $6.475 billion proposed settlement of tens of thousands of lawsuits alleging that its baby powder and other talc products contain asbestos and cause ovarian cancer, the company said Wednesday in a statement.

The deal would allow it to resolve the lawsuits through a third bankruptcy filing of a subsidiary company. It will begin a three-month voting period in hopes of reaching consensus on a settlement of all current and future ovarian cancer claims. Ovarian cancer claims account for 99% of the talc-related lawsuits filed against J&J (JNJ), including about 54,000 lawsuits that are centralized in a New Jersey federal court proceeding.

Courts have rebuffed J&J’s two previous efforts to resolve the lawsuits through the bankruptcy of the subsidiary created to absorb J&J’s talc liability, LTL Management.

J&J, which says that its products do not contain asbestos and do not cause cancer, said that its settlement has the support of a majority of attorneys representing plaintiffs who have filed cancer lawsuits against the company.

J&J said it is confident that the deal will reach a 75% support threshold needed for a bankruptcy settlement that would end the litigation entirely, shutting off future lawsuits and preventing people from opting out of the deal to pursue their separate lawsuits.

The proposed deal would build on J&J’s settlements with about 95% of people who have sued the company after developing mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure, as well as its settlements with U.S. states, which have alleged that the company failed to warn consumers about the dangers of its talc products.

J&J did not disclose the value of the mesothelioma settlements, but it said that it recorded an incremental charge of $2.7 billion in the first quarter of 2024, to account for recent talc-related settlements.

In its second bankruptcy filing, LTL put forward an $8.9 billion deal that would also have addressed the mesothelioma cancer lawsuits and states’ consumer protection actions, in addition to the ovarian cancer claims addressed by the current deal.

The previous bankruptcy filings put the talc litigation on hold from 2021 to 2023, but trials have resumed after a federal judge ruled the latest bankruptcy case should be dismissed in July 2023.

In March, J&J received a new chance to contest the scientific evidence linking talc to ovarian cancer in the centralized litigation in New Jersey federal court. The judge overseeing the cases said that recent changes in the law and new scientific evidence require a fresh review, and he asked J&J to present new arguments on the science by late July.

J&J said it will continue to defend itself against the lawsuits while trying to gather votes on the settlement. The company said it has prevailed in 95% of ovarian cases tried to date, including every ovarian case tried over the last six years.

But, the litigation has resulted in some large verdicts for plaintiffs, including a $2.12 billion award in favor of 22 women who blamed their ovarian cancer on asbestos in J&J talc. In the past month, J&J was recently ordered to pay $45 million in a mesothelioma case while winning an ovarian cancer case.

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