Talc Plaintiffs Take Johnson and Johnson to Court
The New York Times reports that thousands of women are taking consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to court over problems with its famous Baby Powder, claiming that the talc in the powder was tainted with asbestos and has caused them to develop ovarian cancer.
But, unlike other asbestos-related cases such as those prompted by workplace exposure, the women aren’t joining together and filing one massive suit. Instead, they are taking on the company one person at a time.
“In many product liability complaints, class action status can be difficult to win, given the various ways the product can be sold and used” explains an article in a recent edition of The Times. “Such cases end up being individually litigated with the expectation that there will eventually be a mass payout.”
But lawyers for various plaintiffs say that this individual approach can be quite effective, especially with each success. The attorneys explain that each verdict sends a signal about how much plaintiffs can expect to receive and a timeline as to when the company eventually agrees to settle.
This is the right way to do things, agrees Stanford law professor, Nora Freeman Engstrom. “You can’t get to a global settlement until both sides have a really clear sense of the strengths and weaknesses and value of these claims,” she explains.
As of July 2, there were 4,800 plaintiffs filing suit against J&J, so the company has already suffered from the talc fiasco, both financially – the latest verdict against the company was for $417 million – and reputation-wise. Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder is an iconic product that’s been a favorite for decades.
Who doesn’t recognize its smell almost immediately? But when such a product begins to be deemed unsafe, people stop trusting the company as a whole, experts explain.
Many of those who have filed suit against J&J are already quite ill, notes the New York Times article. They are seeking not only restitution – which will likely go to their heirs – but they also want the company to start printing a warning on its product labels.
Better yet, they say, they’d like J&J to change their baby powder’s decades-old “recipe” to one that includes cornstarch instead of talc.
Talc is a mineral which is often naturally found alongside asbestos, which means the two often intermingle, resulting in the contamination of the talc with toxic asbestos fibers.
Nonetheless, some plaintiffs believe that it would be more advantageous to bundle the cases together and go after the company all at once or via several large class action suits.
So far, about 900 cases have been combined into what is known as multi-district litigation (MDL). This takes complaints that are filed in several different federal courts and puts them together, transferring the bundle to the New Jersey Federal District Court.
J&J is headquartered in New Brunswick in Central New Jersey.
MDLs will definitely reduce costs and time, experts say, and it’s likely that J&J will benefit from such case bundling as well, saving money in overall legal costs.
But many analysts see this whole thing as just a blip on the company’s profit sheet.
“In the history of major litigation cases against big pharma, there’s only been a few that really raise the bar to impacting the stock,” explained Morningstar Damien Conover, “but we haven’t seen those in a long time.”
“There’s a lot of room for a company like Johnson & Johnson to digest legal costs.”