A federal judge has decided not to stop Johnson & Johnson from filing a bankruptcy settlement in thousands of talcum powder lawsuits.

The lawsuits claim that J&J’s products caused cancer. The decision is a setback to plaintiffs who claimed that J&J’s approach was an insincere effort to avoid responsibility for its products’ causing thousands of women’s ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.

Settlement Relies on Bankruptcy

Johnson & Johnson has proposed a $6.48 billion settlement plan to resolve these claims. Individual settlements would be paid out over 25 years.

The proposal requires the agreement of 75% of the claimants by a July 26 voting deadline. J&J’s proposed strategy involves establishing a subsidiary, LTL Management, to take on the talc-related liabilities and then having the subsidiary file for bankruptcy to handle the cases collectively.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs opposed this plan, portraying it as a scheme to protect J&J’s assets and impede justice for the victims.

However, U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp ruled that any harm to the victims would be “purely hypothetical” and that he, therefore, lacked jurisdiction over “circumstances that have not occurred and may never occur.”

Critics of J&J’s bankruptcy emphasize that courts rejected the company’s two previous bankruptcy attempts to settle the cases due to insufficient financial distress.

Growing Litigation, Recent Verdicts and Settlements

Johnson & Johnson is currently involved in more than 61,000 lawsuits claiming that its talcum powder products caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. Most of these cases are part of a multidistrict litigation in New Jersey federal court, and thousands more are pending in state courts.

A new class action lawsuit, filed in June 2024, is seeking cancer monitoring for women who used J&J’s talc-based products. This lawsuit does not cover the existing plaintiffs but includes more women concerned they might develop cancer in the future.

That same month, an Oregon jury ordered J&J to pay $260 million to a woman who developed mesothelioma after using the company’s talc-based baby powder for over 30 years, including $60 million in compensatory damages and $200 million in punitive damages.

In another June 2024 development, J&J settled a lawsuit with 43 states over the marketing of its talcum powder products, agreeing to a $700 million settlement and discontinuing talcum powder production.

Despite Johnson & Johnson’s claims that its talc products are safe and free of asbestos, the company stopped selling talc-based products in the U.S. in 2020 and announced in 2022 that it would cease production worldwide.