Johnson & Johnson is facing what may be its first investor class action stemming from allegations the company knew as far back as the 1970s that asbestos fibers in its talc products could cause cancer.
Investors suffered losses when the price of J&J’s stock dropped after reports surfaced that the company knew decades ago that asbestos fibers in its talc products could cause certain cancers, according to a Feb. 8 complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.
J&J is fighting thousands of consumer lawsuits over the alleged link between its talc products—including baby powder—and ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, with mixed results in the courts. The investors’ complaint claims the company misled them about the decades-old link, repeatedly saying its talc products were asbestos-free and safe.
J&J’s vice president of media relations, Ernie Knewitz, described the lawsuit as “baseless,” saying the company will vigorously defend its position. Similar allegations regarding asbestos “were soundly rejected by a California jury in November 2017,” he told Bloomberg Law in an email.
“Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause mesothelioma or ovarian cancer, and we are confident that our talc products are, and always have been, free of asbestos, based on decades of monitoring, testing and regulation dating back to the 1970s,” Knewitz said. “Sample testing by independent laboratories, independent scientists, governmental agencies, and academic institutions spanning decades have all confirmed the absence of asbestos in our talc products.”
A New Jersey state court previously dismissed some consumer cases against J&J for lack of valid scientific evidence. Juries in other states have awarded millions of dollars in damages to plaintiffs alleging J&J’s talc products caused their cancer.
The investors’ allegations are based on a document revealed during one of the consumer lawsuits. The document showed J&J marketed its talc products as asbestos-free despite knowing in the early 1970s that asbestos might have been present at some of its talc mines, according to the complaint.
J&J stock dropped $2.28 per share after Bloomberg reported on the document in September 2017, according to the complaint.
The case is Hall v. Johnson & Johnson, D.N.J., No. 3:18-cv-01833, complaint filed 2/8/18.
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