Over the past few years, Johnson & Johnson has been named in more than 14,000 different talc powder injury lawsuits. In spring, the company requested that 2,400 of these cases be moved from state court to federal court. In July, Judge Maryellen Noreika denied the request. She ruled that the cases must remain in state court.

Johnson & Johnson asked for the cases to be moved to a federal district court in Delaware because its supplier, Imerys, filed for Chapter 11 protection earlier in the year. Judge Noreika was not swayed by the bankruptcy filing. She explained the bankruptcy didn’t give the federal court authority over the lawsuits.

Indeed, the judge stated that Johnson & Johnson had not shown how their lawsuits would impact Imerys and its bankruptcy.

“The judges in the states who are already handling these cases are better suited to hear the claims before them than is this Court, which would have to hear thousands of cases and apply different state laws to each,” Judge Noreika concluded.

If the court had approved Johnson & Johnson’s request, their lawsuits would have been consolidated into one arena. As a result of the denial, the company must now fight their cases in front of dozens of different judges. State court battles such as these have, so far, delivered mixed results for the company.

Johnson & Johnson’s State Court Results

In July 2018, a Missouri jury awarded $4.69 billion to a group of 22 women. These women alleged that Johnson & Johnson’s talc powder had caused their ovarian cancer. The judgment was the largest financial penalty that Johnson & Johnson has ever faced. The company has taken plenty of other losses in court, including:

The rulings have not been all bad for Johnson & Johnson. In May 2019, a South Carolina jury ruled that the company was not liable for the plaintiff’s mesothelioma. The woman had argued that the company’s baby powder caused her illness.

The Presence of Asbestos

In almost all the lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson, the presence of asbestos in the company’s talc powder has been a key issue. Countless studies have shown that talc which is contaminated with asbestos can cause cancer and other illnesses. In many of the cases where Johnson & Johnson was found liable, the plaintiffs successfully proved that asbestos in the company’s talcum powder was a direct contributor to their illness.

In the South Carolina case, the jury ruled in favor of Johnson & Johnson because the plaintiff could not prove the presence of asbestos in her body. As such, the company was able to argue that her cancer occurred naturally and that their product was not at fault.

In the lawsuits that have already been decided, juries have been more inclined to rule in favor of plaintiffs who prove the presence of asbestos. The thousands of cases which remain on Johnson & Johnson’s ticket are likely to follow a similar pattern.

Johnson & Johnson’s Stance

Throughout the lawsuits they have faced, Johnson & Johnson’s public stance has never changed. They remain steadfast in their claims that their talc powder is “safe and does not cause cancer.” Unless a drastic change occurs, it seems likely that their approach will remain the same moving forward.

The facts and Johnson & Johnson’s own internal discussions tell a very different story. Company documents and deposition testimony reviewed by Reuters show that employees within the organization have been worried about the asbestos issue since at least 1971.

In 1976, the FDA considered placing limits on asbestos in cosmetic talc products. In response, Johnson & Johnson assured them that their products were safe. They claimed samples of talc produced from December 1972 to October 1973 did not contain asbestos. In reality, at least three tests from three different laboratories had detected asbestos in the company’s talc. In one instance, the level of asbestos was reported as being “rather high.”

In recent years, several tests have shown that some samples of Johnson & Johnson talc contain asbestos. There are also some samples which do not show any contamination. However, the World Health Organization does not recognize any safe level of exposure to asbestos. As such, even if only a small fraction of the company’s talc contains this dangerous substance, they cannot claim that their product is “safe.”