The Justice Department and the SEC are investigating Johnson & Johnson over concerns the company’s baby powder may have contained asbestos in addition to talc. J&J was subpoenaed in the wake of several jury trials that awarded millions in damages to plaintiffs who claimed the J&J’s talc products including Shower to Shower and Johnson’s Baby Powder were tainted with asbestos and caused their cancers. The agencies seek documents that may shed more light on those matters and other suits Johnson & Johnson faces filed by shareholders and pension holders over the situation.
About 13,000 plaintiffs have filed claims in pending lawsuits involving talc-based body powders. “The Company is cooperating with these government inquiries and will be producing documents in response,” Johnson & Johnson said in an SEC filing Wednesday.
In some of the earliest trials that usually set a barometer for future settlement negotiations, state courts in New Jersey and California awarded damages to plaintiffs who claimed Johnson & Johnson talc products contained asbestos and caused their mesothelioma. In July, a St. Louis jury awarded $4.7 billion to 22 women who said asbestos in the company’s talc powder contributed to their ovarian cancer. In the SEC filing, Johnson & Johnson said, “The Company believes that it has strong grounds on appeal to overturn these verdicts.” According to J&J, “Decades of independent tests by regulators and the world’s leading labs prove Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder is safe and asbestos-free, and does not cause cancer. We intend to cooperate fully with these inquiries and will continue to defend the Company in the talc-related litigation.” This comes on the heels of reports in The New York Times and the Reuters business journal which revealed documents suggesting the company knew about the risk of asbestos in its powders for decades and sought to keep the issue quiet. If true, this is indicative or a decades-long effort by Johnson & Johnson to potentially mislead regulators and consumers about the safety its talc products, which may have resulted in long-term harm for men, women and children who used Johnson & Johnson baby powder.