April 5, 2023 – Johnson & Johnson has more than quadrupled its offer to people who allege its asbestos-tainted baby powder caused cancer, now offering them a combined $8.9 billion.
At least 70,000 people have filed lawsuits against the company, which still maintains no wrongdoing amid accusations that executives knew about safety issues with the iconic talc-based powder products.
If the proposal is finalized, it will be one of the largest product-liability settlements in U.S. history, NPR reported.
The amount is an increase from the company’s proposed $2 million settlement offer made in October 2021. If approved, the payout would occur over 25 years from a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary called LTL Management, which is an entity created to shield its parent company from the talc litigation, The New York Times reported. The maneuver results in the matter being handled within a bankruptcy court system.
Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that the offer has the support of more than 60,000 claimants.
Creating the settlement through the bankruptcy court channel is equitable, efficient, “allows claimants to be compensated in a timely manner, and enables the Company to remain focused on our commitment to profoundly and positively impact health for humanity,” Erik Haas, Johnson & Johnson worldwide vice president of litigation, said in the news release.
The Times reported that lawyers representing most of the plaintiffs called the offer a “significant victory.”
One lawyer, who says his firm represents nearly 10,000 plaintiffs, called the $8.9 billion offer too low when considering how many people it needs to be divided between.
“This is not over by a long shot,” said Brian Glasser, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, on his law firm’s Twitter account, calling the announcement an “attempt to avoid responsibility by offering the sum of what was found in the company’s seat cushions.”
If $8.9 billion were divided equally among 70,000 people, each person would get about $127,143.
Talcum powder, which absorbs moisture and reduces friction, is widely used in cosmetic products for babies and adults because it absorbs moisture and reduces friction.
According to the American Cancer Society, most concerns about the links between talcum powder and cancer center around a potential increased risk of lung cancer when it is inhaled, such as by miners, and also a potential increased ovarian cancer risk when it is used regularly in the genital area. However, research linking it to ovarian cancer has had mixed results, the organization summarized.
“One of the problems with studying this issue is that ovarian cancer isn’t common. Because of this, even the largest studies done so far might not have been big enough to detect a very small increase in risk, if it exists,” says the American Cancer Society.
Both talc and asbestos are naturally occurring minerals and may be found in close proximity together underground, the FDA explains. Asbestos is a known carcinogen. The FDA regularly tests a sample of talc-based cosmetic products for asbestos.
Johnson & Johnson stopped selling talc-based baby powder in the U.S. in 2020. That same year, the FDA found small amounts of asbestos in a bottle purchased online, CBS News reported, adding that the company said 15 tests of the same bottle conducted by two laboratories it hired did not detect asbestos. In 2022, Johnson & Johnson announced it will only sell cornstarch-based baby powder and halt worldwide sales of talc-based baby powder by this year.