Johnson & Johnson started selling surgical dressings in 1886, but the company’s expansion to baby care products in 1894 made Johnson & Johnson a household name. The company’s baby powder, made from crushed talc, has been a nursery staple ever since. Today, Johnson & Johnson offers a stunning variety of products, from Band-Aids to shampoos, with global sales of more than $93.7 billion in 2021. But its beloved baby powder has been under fire since 2017. Here’s what you need to know.
What’s Wrong With the Baby Powder?
As it has been since its creation, Johnson & Johnson baby powder is made from crushed talc. This naturally-occurring mineral is considered safe on its own. But the problem is that it is often found alongside asbestos, another naturally-occurring mineral that can cause mesothelioma and other dangerous illnesses. As talc is mined from the earth, asbestos contamination is possible.
Since asbestos fibers are most dangerous when inhaled, it is easy to see what can happen next. The crushing process that turns talc into powder can release those fibers. The cloud of dust that comes with any application of baby powder could then lead to the inhalation of asbestos.
The Lawsuits and Potential Coverup
The very first Johnson & Johnson baby powder lawsuit was filed in 1999 by a woman who had developed mesothelioma after a lifetime of using the baby powder. But the company was able to have its internal test results and other documents shielded, and the woman was forced to drop the lawsuit. Still, the wheels of justice had been set in motion.
The first class-action lawsuit over the baby powder was filed on behalf of more than 50 women who developed ovarian cancer after using it. In 2019, the U.S. Justice Department launched a criminal investigation into whether Johnson & Johnson knew of the dangers and intentionally misled the public.
The company continues to insist that its baby powder is asbestos-free, though it did stop selling the talc-based version of the powder in the United States and Canada in 2020. But Reuters did a deep dive into company records and testimony that have been released as the legal actions continued to mount. They discovered that as far back as the 1950s, some internal tests of some samples showed high levels of tremolite fibers—one of the six minerals that together are known as asbestos. At the time, asbestos was a commonly used fireproofing material, and little was known about its health risks.
But in the 1970s, when the dangers of asbestos were becoming established and the U.S. government was beginning to regulate it, Johnson & Johnson insisted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that no asbestos was found in any of its testing samples at the time. This despite the fact that tests from three different labs between 1972 and 1975 did find asbestos contamination.
It is true that the majority of samples over the years have not contained asbestos. But many have, and some have shown high levels of the dangerous contaminant. And Johnson & Johnson tests only a very small portion of their talc.
Timeline of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder Cases
To date, billions of dollars have been awarded to victims of Johnson & Johnson's contaminated baby powder. Here’s a look at the timeline of legal proceedings:
- October 2017: A class-action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, filed by more than 50 St. Louis women with ovarian cancer, provided evidence that the company knew its talcum-based products contained asbestos since the 1970s and that they had trained their employees to deny its existence.
- April 2018: Johnson & Johnson lost their first big case involving their baby powder when a New Jersey jury ordered them to pay $80 million in punitive damages to Stephen Lanzo III, as well as $37 million in compensatory damages. Stephen Lanzo III had claimed that he developed mesothelioma as a result of using their baby powder.
- December 2018: An investigative report was published by Reuters, in which they claimed that Johnson & Johnson knew its baby powder contained asbestos and that they had covered it up and never reported it to the FDA.
- January 2019: Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, requested documentation from Johnson & Johnson about their past testing for asbestos in their baby powder. This was in response to the claim put forward by Reuters.
- October 2019: A container of Johnson & Johnson's baby powder was flagged by the FDA when it was found to contain asbestos. It was part of a 33,000-bottle batch, which the company voluntarily recalled. As a result, retailers across the country pulled Johnson & Johnson's baby powder from their shelves.
- May 2020: Johnson & Johnson announced that they would stop selling their talc-based baby powder in the United States and Canada and replace it with a cornstarch-based version. Their talc-based version continues to be sold internationally.
- February 2022: J&J attempts to transfer all of its liabilities related to the talcum powder lawsuits to a newly formed entity called LTL Management. The new subsidiary promptly filed for bankruptcy. As of July 2022, an appeal by the affected plaintiffs remains pending.
- May 2022: Johnson & Johnson investors vote not to end global sales of talc-based baby powder despite concerns about the product’s lack of safety and the company’s ongoing legal troubles.
- August 2022: Johnson & Johnson stated that they will pull talc-based products off shelves in 2023 and use cornstarch instead.
Key Rulings in J&J Talcum Powder Lawsuits
- $4.7 billion: Awarded in July 2018 by a jury in Missouri to 22 women who claimed the company’s asbestos-containing talc-based baby powder caused them to develop ovarian cancer
- $29.4 million: Awarded in March 2019 by a jury in California to a mesothelioma patient in response to a claim that the use of Johnson & Johnson’s talc powder caused her cancer. J&J appealed the decision, but the appeals court defended the original verdict, ruling that the company had to pay.
- $325 million: Awarded in May 2019 to a Brooklyn woman who sued J&J after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
- $750 million: Awarded in February 2020 by a jury in New Jersey to four mesothelioma patients. This amount was eventually lowered to $185 million due to a New Jersey law limiting compensatory damages.
- $100 million: In the spring of 2021, a massive jury verdict led J&J to pay out $100 million to settle 1,000 pending talc cases.
As of November 2022, Johnson and Johnson was still facing up to 38,000 cases. Asbestos-related diseases can take decades to emerge, so legal action will likely continue well into the future.
A strong link has been drawn between Johnson & Johnson baby powder and various types of cancer. If you have been diagnosed with any type of cancer or an asbestos-related illness after using Johnson & Johnson baby powder, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit. You’ll need a skilled and experienced lawyer with a proven track record of success in asbestos litigation.
Our Experience in Asbestos Cases
At Cooney & Conway, we have been fighting for the victims and families exposed to asbestos since the 1970s and have been awarded large amounts on their behalf. We are a respected national leader in asbestos litigation and mesothelioma litigation and are proud of the following notable accomplishments:
- $200,000,000 settlement in a consolidated asbestos case. At the time, this settlement was the largest in the history of Illinois
- $35,100,000 verdict for a refinery worker exposed to asbestos at Shell Oil
- $12,300,000 verdict for an insulator exposed to asbestos on the job
- $3,500,000 verdict for an electrician exposed to asbestos on the job
- $3,000,000 verdict for an insulator exposed to asbestos on the job
While these are the most notable, we have represented hundreds of victims and families just like yours over the years. We are not strangers to the realities that come with cases like this, whether in the courtroom or relating to your well-being, and we're here for you every step of the way.
If you believe you or a loved one has been affected by asbestos exposure, take advantage of our free case evaluation and we'll contact you with your options.