In a surprising move Wednesday, pharmaceutical and consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson settled three lawsuits accusing the company of manufacturing talc products with cancer-causing ingredients. A jury in a case in Oklahoma was three hours into deliberation when the judge called them back and announced that the two sides had reached a deal. On the same day, J&J reached settlements in cases in New York and California that made similar claims. Details of the settlements have not been disclosed.
Analysts say that this is an unusual move for J&J, a company not known for quickly settling claims about its products. A move to settle claims in quick fashion may indicate that the company has shifted its strategy toward the litigation over whether its talc products, like Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower, cause cancer. J&J denies that there has been any such shift in its strategy and maintains that the products are safe. A Reuters report late last year revealed that company officials knew for decades that asbestos, a compound linked cancer, was present in its products and sought to conceal that fact from U.S. regulators.
The pharma company currently faces thousands of lawsuits across the country that say that its talc products are responsible for ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. Though J&J has won reversals and verdicts in a few cases, the litigation has seen large plaintiff verdicts, including a $4.7 billion verdict for 22 women in Missouri. In that case, the judge had remarked that J&J’s behavior was “particularly reprehensible.” More recently, a California jury awarded a mother of two $29 million on her claim that J&J’s talc products were a substantial contributing factor to her cancer.
The cases that have settled so far all involve mesothelioma. J&J will face more trials this year, most of which also involve mesothelioma.
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