Opinion / The Nation and the World

Corporate America needs to stop misleading its consumers: The Johnson and Johnson lawsuit

From the 1950s to the early 2000s Johnson and Johnson’s (J&J) talcum products tested positive for small amounts of asbestos, a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). According to Reuters Investigates and National Public Radio, J&J’s attempts to conceal their discoveries from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the public, dating back to the 1950s, have led to the development of ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, an often fatal cancer of the mesothelium, a thin lining that covers the majority of internal organs, in tens of thousands of women. Many lawsuits have been filed against J&J over the years, but few have been successful due to the company’s great influence on government, on the world’s scientific discoveries, and on the economy. Large pharmaceutical companies need to be held accountable for their products and decisions despite their invaluable contributions to the medical industry and the world.

The Texas Two Step

The “Texas Two Step,” a legal maneuver often used by large corporations to avoid financial liability, has been Johnson and Johnson’s key defense since October 2021 when they created a subsidiary based in Texas. Within days of the creation of LTL Management, the new holder of J&J’s talc products relocated to North Carolina and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which is filed when intending to restructure, reported National Public Radio. The Limited Liability Company not only protects the finances of the parent corporation but the investor and executives as well who could be held personally liable. Since J and J’s redistribution of assets, they have been under much scrutiny and debate. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia will come to a decision later this year on whether LTL’s bankruptcy filing was filed in good faith, a key determinant in delivering justice to victims, according to National Public Radio

J and J executives and attorney Neal Katyal claim that the legal maneuver was enacted to provide a faster settlement for victims. The New York Times and Reuters Investigates state that compensation in bankruptcy court could result in a settlement of $61 billion and that the plaintiffs have more to gain from the possibility of the lawsuit going to civil court like the St. Louis’ case in 2018 did, delivering $4 billion to the 22 plaintiffs. Considering the nearly 40,000 plaintiffs involved in the current lawsuit, victims could have the opportunity to receive much over J&J’s estimate of $61 billion in damages if transferred to civil court.  

Evidence of Negligence

The company, founded in 1886 by James, Robert and Edward Mead Johnson, was the first ever company to market baby powder, which debuted in 1894, explains the Smithsonian and Johnson and Johnson. According to Reuters Investigates, J&J first discovered the presence of asbestos in its Italian talc mines in 1957 and immediately became concerned, but for the wrong reason, as they fretted over the coarseness of tremolite fibers rather than the dangers it posed to users’ health. The cross-contamination between the two materials developed from asbestos’s often close proximity to talc deposits underground. For the next 40 or so years, asbestos would be continuously found in J&J talc mines around the world. The talc would be refined, processed and then sold to building manufacturers depending on its grade of purity and despite its risk. In 1971, scientist Irving Selikoff caught on to the cross-contamination and shared his research with the FDA, which led to an immediate inquiry. His findings were based on tissue tests, as asbestos was found in the lung tissue of many post-mortem New Yorkers who had no other connection to the carcinogen.

According to Reuters Investigates, in 1971 J&J shared evidence that their talc products contained less than 1% asbestos. Over the next few years, J&J would test many talc samples, which produced varying results and claims. The archaic tests and small sample were inaccurately relied upon to prove J&J’s innocence. In 1974 the FDA proposed a .1% asbestos acceptance rate, a so-called “healthy amount,” but due to the lack of uniformity in testing methods, the limitation was postponed. Throughout the 1970s to early 2000s, J&J took no action to protect its consumers. Without proper publicity on the topic or hazard labels, many people remained unaware of the product’s danger. 


Had J&J been honest 65 years ago, numerous lives could have been spared, yet the company still attempts to protect its image and deny any wrongdoing despite the abundance of credible evidence against them. Not only does J&J’s lack of accountability dishonor the dead, but also poses a precedent for the future. Who is to say that another big pharmaceutical company won’t cut costs, market hazardous products, or push potentially addicting drugs? The United States is too reliant on public companies to maintain the country’s image. The U.S. needs to hold its pharma industry to a higher standard and protect its citizens against corporate greed.

Image source: Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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