Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is standing at a critical crossroads as it faces a significant milestone in the form of a proposed $8.9 billion settlement to address numerous lawsuits alleging that its talc products are carcinogenic. This week, a U.S. bankruptcy judge in New Jersey will deliberate on whether to permit a J&J subsidiary to tackle these claims by initiating a second bankruptcy filing.
In the past, J&J subsidiary LTL Management’s initial attempt to seek bankruptcy protection was dismissed in April after a U.S. appeals court determined that the subsidiary did not meet the necessary criteria of financial distress to qualify for such relief.
However, undeterred by the setback, LTL promptly pursued a second bankruptcy filing, emphasizing that this renewed endeavor has garnered increased support from plaintiffs seeking a comprehensive settlement encompassing current and future lawsuits. These legal actions allege that J&J’s talc products, including its widely recognized baby powder, contained asbestos, leading to devastating health consequences such as mesothelioma, ovarian cancer, and other related illnesses. J&J has consistently maintained its position, asserting that its talc products are safe and asbestos-free.
Nevertheless, attorneys representing cancer victims and the U.S. Justice Department’s bankruptcy watchdog have criticized LTL’s second bankruptcy filing, claiming that it constitutes an abuse of the bankruptcy law. Those opposing the bankruptcy settlement argue that it represents a failed legal tactic aimed at preventing their cases from proceeding to a jury trial.
Commencing on Tuesday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michael Kaplan in Trenton will preside over several days of evidence and arguments before reaching a decision. Judge Kaplan, whose initial ruling in favor of LTL’s first bankruptcy filing was overturned by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, has expressed his intention to deliver a ruling regarding the dismissal of LTL’s second bankruptcy by early August.
Key LTL executives, including Chief Legal Officer John Kim, are expected to provide testimony on Tuesday. Subsequently, on Wednesday, attorneys involved in the negotiations for the $8.9 billion settlement, such as Jim Murdica representing LTL and J&J, and Mikal Watts representing specific plaintiffs, will take the witness stand. These testimonies will shed light on the intricate details and implications surrounding the proposed settlement and bankruptcy proceedings.
This courtroom battle serves as a pivotal moment that will shape the future trajectory of the talc litigation against J&J. The outcome will undoubtedly carry far-reaching consequences for the company, the plaintiffs, and the pursuit of justice for those impacted by alleged talc product-related health issues.