Johnson & Johnson said it set aside almost US$4 billion to cover the biggest verdict against the company over its Baby Powder and other settlements while it’s appealing the 2018 loss to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a Monday securities filing, J&J said it was taking a “litigation expense of US$3.9 billion” related to ‘primarily talc-related reserves and certain settlements.” It also said J&J now faces 25,000 lawsuits by former Baby Powder users who claim asbestos-laced talc in the product caused their cancers. That’s almost a 39 per cent jump in the number of cases from last year.
It reserved some of the money for a 2018 Missouri verdict for 20 women who blamed the company’s powders for ovarian cancer. The US$4.7 billion verdict was later cut to US$2.1 billion and J&J appealed.
The Missouri Supreme Court in November refused to hear J&J’s arguments that the reduced verdict was flawed and excessive. The company is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to throw the award out entirely.
The original verdict -- which included one of the largest punitive-damages awards in U.S. legal history -- sparked a significant drop in J&J’s shares.
“Missouri, one of the most conservative courts in the nation, upheld a verdict because J&J killed countless women by maliciously hiding the asbestos in their baby powder,” Mark Lanier, lead lawyer for the talc users in the St. Louis case, said in an emailed statement Monday. “Now J&J wants a get out of jail free card. A responsible company would pay their debts.”
The women in the St. Louis case cited internal J&J documents from the early 1970s indicating officials found traces of asbestos in their talc products and never made those findings public. J&J contends its talc is safe and hasn’t been contaminated by asbestos.
J&J pulled its talc-based baby powder off the shelves in the U.S. and Canada last year.