Reports recently surfaced that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether or not pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson new about the risks its talc-based products posed to consumers but chose not to warn the public. The criminal probe comes as Johnson & Johnson faces thousands of lawsuits in civil courts across the country brought by plaintiffs who claim they developed various forms of cancer, including mesothelioma, from using the company’s talcum powder products.
A federal grand jury in Washington state is currently examining internal company documents related to what Johnson & Johnson knew about the presence of asbestos fibers or other carcinogens in its talcum powder products like Baby Powder and Shower to Shower. While talcum powder products make up only a small part of the company’s sales, they nonetheless have been a core brand for Johnson & Johnson for over a century.
Johnson & Johnson had disclosed to shareholders in February that the company received subpoenas from the Justice Department but those documents did not mention a grand jury had been convened nor whether the matter was of a criminal or civil nature. In response to the developments, Johnson & Johnson executives released a statement saying, “We have been fully cooperating with the previously disclosed DOJ investigation and will continue to do so. Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause cancer, as supported by decades of independent clinical evidence.”
Though Johnson & Johnson claims that decades of independent testing show its talc, sourced by Imerys Talc USA, does not contain deadly asbestos fibers, civil lawsuits have shown juries evidence to the contrary. Lawyers for asbestos cancer victims have produced internal company documents from as far back as the 1960s and 1970s that contain warnings that company scientists had detected asbestos fibers in talc used in Baby Powder and Shower to Shower.
As civil lawsuits continue to progress for Johnson & Johnson, government bodies such as the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and the Securities and Exchange Commission will ramp up their own investigations into Johnson & Johnson. Some news sources report that Johnson & Johnson has set aside an estimated $15 billion for possible talcum powder lawsuit settlements.
Over the past several years, juries across the country have handed down more than $5 billion in verdicts to plaintiffs who claim they developed mesothelioma and other deadly forms of cancer as a result of asbestos exposure from Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products. Some of those verdicts have included awards for punitive damages to punish Johnson & Johnson for knowingly producing a dangerous product and withholding information from the public.
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