J&J says it has settled some talc claims, will continue bankruptcy strategy

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson’s worldwide vice president for litigation said on Tuesday that the company has recently reached settlements with several law firms over their clients’ claims that J&J talc products caused cancer.

The settlements were reached “with a goal to facilitate our pursuit of a consensual prepackaged bankruptcy resolution,” Erik Haas said on an investor call. It was not clear whether the deals have been finalized.

J&J said in October that it was considering a new bankruptcy filing to resolve talc claims. Courts have rejected its two previous attempts to resolve talc litigation through bankruptcy, most recently a proposed $8.9 billion deal.

Haas said the recent settlements covered cases involving plaintiffs with mesothelioma, a type of cancer linked to asbestos, but did not provide any details about the dollar amounts involved or say how many people they covered.

He said the company had resolved all but one of the cases scheduled for trial in 2023, “significantly curtailed” trials in 2024 and did not require the company to record any new charges against earnings.

Bloomberg reported earlier on Tuesday that J&J had reached settlements covering about 100 people.

J&J faces more than 50,000 lawsuits over talc, most by women with ovarian cancer, with a minority of the cases involving people with mesothelioma. The company has said that its talc products are safe and do not contain asbestos.

The lawsuits, which had mostly been on hold for about two years while J&J petitioned the bankruptcy court, have now been able to resume.

Trials in the talc cases have had a mixed record, with major plaintiff wins including a $2.1 billion judgment in 2021 awarded to 22 women with ovarian cancer. A New Jersey appeals court in October threw out a $223.7 million verdict against the company, finding the testimony of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses unsound.

The company stopped selling talc-based baby powder in favor of cornstarch-based products, citing an increase in lawsuits and “misinformation” about the talc product’s safety.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Bill Berkrot)