Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson’s benevolent reputation has been overshadowed by recent revelations that one of the company’s most trusted products was laced with asbestos. Instead of warning the public, Johnson & Johnson actively concealed the presence of asbestos in baby powder and continued to market it as safe. As a result, thousands of Americans have contracted mesothelioma and ovarian cancer from asbestos in Johnson & Johnson baby powder.
Johnson & Johnson was founded in 1886 as a sterile surgical dressings manufacturer. The company began producing baby powder in 1894, according to Reuters. Baby powder became an iconic product in the company’s well-known line of baby products, which include the famous no-tears baby shampoo and baby lotion.
These products helped Johnson & Johnson forge its gentle, benevolent reputation that it would enjoy for well over a century until the first lawsuit was filed in 1997 by one of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder asbestos victims. This marked the beginning of a barrage of lawsuits by thousands of injured baby powder users.
The Discovery of Asbestos in Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder
Until recently, the main ingredient in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder has been talc. Talc is a mineral that is mined from the earth. It is valued for its soft texture and ability to absorb moisture. These qualities make it desirable for use in hygiene and cosmetic products.
Unfortunately, talc deposits are often located near asbestos deposits, resulting in asbestos contamination of talc. Johnson & Johnson became aware that its own talc mines were contaminated at least as early as the 1950s.
Asbestos Contamination of Italian Talc
Beginning in 1957, Johnson & Johnson’s own testing of its products revealed that both raw talc and finished powders tested positive for various forms of asbestos. A report in 1957 showing the test results on talc from Pinerolo, Italy, revealed a finding that the talc was contaminated with amphiboles, a family of asbestos.
The 1958 follow-up report revealed an additional finding of asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s talc, specifying that the specific form of asbestos is tremolite, part of the amphibole family.
Persistent Findings of Asbestos Contamination in Talc
The finding of asbestos in the 1957 and 1958 samples was only the beginning. Johnson & Johnson continued to find asbestos in varying forms in its testing. Throughout the 1970s, multiple samples of Johnson & Johnson’s talc tested positive for asbestos, according to a Reuter’s investigative report.
Johnson & Johnson never made this information public. In 1964, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary purchased a cluster of talc mines in Vermont. By 1967, samples of talc from these mines tested positive for tremolite asbestos.
Johnson & Johnson continued mining from the same sources long after testing throughout the 1970s revealed asbestos contamination of chrysotile and tremolite asbestos.
Doctors Warn Johnson & Johnson About Talc in Baby Powder
In 1969, pediatricians began inquiring about the safety of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder. Even the company’s former CEO and co-founder’s son raised concerns about the product’s safety for mothers and children.
Company doctors replied to these inquiries with assurances that the product was safe while at the same time expressing to Johnson & Johnson executives that if the product contains tremolite asbestos, it is not safe. The doctors even warned the company about the possibility of litigation.
During the early 1970s, Dr. Irving Selikoff, a prominent doctor leading a research team at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, discovered asbestos in talc and notified New York’s environmental protection chief, Jerome Kretchmer. This led to a Food & Drug Administration inquiry.
Johnson & Johnson’s Concealment Efforts
Johnson & Johnson issued an emphatic statement to the FDA that its talc-based products do not contain asbestos. But a prominent researcher, Arthur Langer, also found asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s talc products. In response, Johnson & Johnson placed Dr. Selikoff, Mr. Kretchmer, and Mr. Langer on its list of “antagonistic personalities.”
Instead of doing the right thing and warning the public about the potential risks, Johnson and Johnson attempted to hide asbestos contamination from regulatory agencies, attempted to influence policies in its own favor, and continued to push the public narrative that its talc-based products were safe.
In 1976, Johnson & Johnson sent a falsified report to the FDA in an attempt to end the investigation. The company also attempted in vain to persuade the FDA to alter its testing policies to allow a testing method that only detects asbestos if the level is one percent or higher. The FDA’s proposed asbestos limit at the time was .1 percent.
Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder Today
Johnson & Johnson continued to primarily source its talc from the Vermont mines, despite numerous positive tests for asbestos. In 2003, Johnson & Johnson began sourcing talc from China through Imerys Talc America.
Although FDA testing of several samples from these mines in 2009 did not reveal asbestos, Imerys Talc America is named in several lawsuits as asbestos-related illnesses from baby powder continue to emerge. In 2019, 33,000 bottles of talc-based Johnson & Johnson baby powder were recalled due to asbestos contamination.
As a result of billions of dollars in liability and growing public concern about the safety of talc-based products, Johnson & Johnson has ceased sales of talc-based baby powder in the United States and Canada, replacing it with cornstarch-based baby powder.
Johnson & Johnson’s Questionable Practices
Despite its benevolent image, Johnson & Johnson has engaged in a pattern of conduct that reveals its intentions to prioritize profits over ethics and human health.
Concealing and Falsifying Studies
In addition to falsifying reports for the FDA and trying to change policies that would have allowed the presence of asbestos to be ignored, Johnson & Johnson has also exhibited a pattern of discarding reports and firing researchers who report results they don’t like.
A documentary by the New York Times revealed that Johnson & Johnson hired an Israeli researcher in the 1970s to check for asbestos in samples. When the samples tested positive, the researcher was fired, and the results were not reported.
When asked if their products contain asbestos, Johnson & Johnson falsely states that their products are safe, do not contain asbestos, and do not cause health problems. However, the litigants in more than 38,000 lawsuits can attest that this is not the truth.
In another testament to Johnson & Johnson’s lack of ethics, Johnson & Johnson was involved in the deplorable practice of using black inmates as human guinea pigs, according to Bloomberg news.
In these experiments, Johnson & Johnson researchers injected asbestos into the backs of the inmates to determine how asbestos affects the skin in comparison to talc, perhaps in a shameless effort to evade liability for the presence of asbestos in its products.
Marketing to Black Women
The National Council of Negro Women is suing Johnson & Johnson for unfairly targeting black women in its efforts to market a product it knew was harmful, according to the New York Times. The marketing campaigns included radio campaigns and free samples in beauty parlors.
The council states in the lawsuit that the company knew black women would be more likely to use the product. Black women face disadvantages when dealing with the harmful health effects of Johnson & Johnson products because they are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured and consequently receive substandard care.
The Effects of Johnson & Johnson
Baby Powder Asbestos
Despite Johnson & Johnson’s persistent denials that their products cause harm, the diseases caused by asbestos in baby powder have been well-established.
Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that impacts the lining surrounding interior organs. Mesothelioma is often diagnosed in its later stages, and in many cases, the life expectancy is less than a year.
The most common type of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lining surrounding the lungs. This can occur as a result of inhaling Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder, which forms a cloud of dust when applied.
This is how Darlene Coker, a regular user of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder, most likely contracted pleural mesothelioma, a condition she died from in 2009.
Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second most common type of mesothelioma, impacting the lining surrounding the stomach. This can occur as a result of ingesting asbestos fibers, as was the case for Hanna Wilt, a daily user of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder who died from peritoneal mesothelioma in February 2022.
Ovarian cancer is a rare, deadly form of cancer that is often asymptomatic until it reaches the later stages, resulting in a delayed diagnosis. The prognosis is often poor because the cancer quickly spreads to other organs.
Johnson & Johnson has long marketed baby powder and Shower to Shower, another talc-based product, as feminine hygiene products that can be applied to the female genitalia for moisture and odor control. Applying the product in this way has been implicated in numerous cases of ovarian cancer.
The Lanier Law Firm’s
Historical Johnson & Johnson Verdict
The first successful lawsuit connecting Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder to ovarian cancer was filed by The Lanier Law Firm on behalf of 22 women. The court ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a total of $4.69 billion in damages, which included $4.14 billion in punitive damages.
Punitive damages are awarded when the court finds evidence of egregious conduct, such as malice, gross negligence, or fraudulent concealment. In Johnson & Johnson’s case, the court found that Johnson & Johnson knew its baby powder was dangerous and fraudulently concealed this information while continuing to market the product as safe.
Johnson & Johnson appealed the $4.69 billion verdict to the Missouri Supreme Court, which upheld the verdict while reducing the award. Two of the women’s cases were dismissed for jurisdictional reasons, and the punitive damages for the remaining 20 were reduced to $1.6 billion, for a total award of $2.11 billion.
This is still a significant victory for the women and their families, and it was a landmark case that set a precedent for future cases. In its opinion, the Missouri Supreme Court acknowledged that Johnson & Johnson’s conduct was reprehensible.
Johnson & Johnson appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case, allowing the verdict to stand.
Can I file an asbestos lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson?
Asbestos-related lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson have been halted by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New Jersey, which approved the bankruptcy. However, this has been appealed.
If the bankruptcy is allowed to move forward, you will not be able to file a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson in the future. If the appeal is successful, your right to file a lawsuit will be restored. Whatever occurs, the case may continue to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.
Johnson & Johnson’s Bankruptcy Maneuver
In a move commonly referred to as the “Texas two-step,” Johnson & Johnson took advantage of a law in Texas that allows companies to set up a separate entity and shift its liabilities to that entity. Johnson & Johnson’s new entity is known as LTL Management LLC, according to a special report by Reuters.
With all the asbestos liabilities shifted to the new company, Johnson & Johnson’s next move was a bankruptcy filing by LTL in October 2021. As part of the bankruptcy reorganization, the new entity, LTL, will be required to establish an asbestos trust fund.
Johnson & Johnson’s Asbestos Trust Fund
Johnson & Johnson has stated that it intends to establish an asbestos trust fund with $2 billion as part of LTL’s Chapter 11 reorganization. The company claims that its objective is to reach a “fair and equitable resolution” to address claims in a manner that would serve the interests of claimants and all stakeholders.
This is a cryptic way of saying they want to shield their assets and avoid compensating the large number of deserving individuals who were harmed by their products. The result will be less money for each claimant and zero accountability for Johnson & Johnson.
What is the status of the bankruptcy?
Cancer victims have appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia on the grounds that Johnson & Johnson established what essentially amounts to a fake corporation in a bad-faith effort to prevent victims harmed by their products from seeking justice in a court of law.
The U.S. Department of Justice has also challenged the maneuver, citing concerns of setting a dangerous precedent that would allow all companies and wealthy individuals to use the same maneuver to avoid legitimate civil liability.
Members of Congress have also taken notice. In response, the Nondebtor Release Prohibition Act has been introduced to prohibit these types of maneuvers.
Should I wait to contact an attorney?
The outcome of the bankruptcy is uncertain, but state laws limit the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit.
Significant preparation is necessary before a claim can be filed. If lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson are allowed to continue, contacting an asbestos exposure attorney now will ensure your case will be ready to file before the deadline has expired. In addition, we can look for additional sources of exposure.
Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.