A federal bankruptcy judge will not stop Johnson & Johnson from taking the first step in separating its talcum powder liabilities from the rest of its business. 

In her August 26 ruling, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Laurie Selber Silverstein denied a motion from plaintiffs’ attorneys requesting that Johnson & Johnson be prevented from moving talcum powder-related businesses closer to Chapter 11 proceedings. 

Silverstein, says Reuters, is overseeing Imerys Talc America’s bankruptcy proceedings. Imerys, Johnson & Johnson’s former talcum supplier, has been named as a co-defendant in litigation. 

While Imerys is currently on the brink of bankruptcy, personal injury plaintiffs took its Chapter 11 hearing to request that Silverstein stop Johnson & Johnson from moving its talcum liabilities into a shell company. 

According to Reuters, Johnson & Johnson is pursuing a plan to move its liabilities into a newly-created business—a business which is expected to quickly seek bankruptcy protections.1

If Johnson & Johnson proceeds with its plan and successfully offloads its talcum liabilities, the company could effectively stop the tens of thousands of people who have been harmed by the carcinogen-containing powder from going after the pharmaceutical manufacturer’s most valuable assets. 

The Claims Against Johnson & Johnson and the Dangers of its Talc Products

Johnson & Johnson’s talcum-based powders have been under fire for years. 

Individuals, organizations, and advocacy groups have filed a wave of litigation against the company, claiming Johnson & Johnson knew its talcum powders contained human carcinogens.

Many Johnson & Johnson Talc Products Were Tainted With Harmful Asbestos

Johnson & Johnson’s baby powders tested positive for trace amounts of asbestos as recently as 2003.2 Even though the company now claims its most recently sold talcum powders were asbestos-free, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children have already been exposed to the deadly chemical. 

However, Johnson & Johnson’s asbestos purge still left behind a highly problematic product. Scientists have found that talcum-based powders can still cause cancer and respiratory illnesses, even when they are entirely asbestos-free. 

Although each lawsuit is different, they all make the same basic argument: that pharmaceutical manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson did not adequately warn consumers of their products’ potential to cause cancer. 

The Dangers of Talcum Powders Were Known By Johnson & Johnson

In 2018, Reuters released a stunning report: Johnson & Johnson knew its baby powder products were contaminated by asbestos decades before they ever admitted it.3

While traces of the chemical showed up in random tests between 1971 and 2003, Johnson & Johnson kept its potentially deadly secret under wraps. 

The company publicly stated that its products were safe for use. But internal corporate communications suggest management suspected a major problem. 

Even after Johnson & Johnson finally wrangled control of its supply line, talcum powder continued to harm women and children across the United States.

The Health Dangers of Talcum Products

As a mineral, talcum powder can be dangerous when inhaled, causing or contributing to symptoms such as: 

  • Fast and shallow breathing
  • Wheezing 
  • Coughing
  • Acute or chronic lung irritation 
  • Pneumonia and asthma-like symptoms

But talcum powder’s dangers are not limited to the lungs. 

Scientists have demonstrated that talcum powder can enter the body through other routes. Many feminine hygiene products, for instance, contain talcum.4 When talcum powders are used on or near the vagina, tiny talcum particles can invade the uterus and fallopian tubes, eventually reaching a woman’s ovaries. 

Once talcum powder has settled, it becomes embedded in the body’s mucous membrane. This can lead to inflammation and ultimately even ovarian cancer.

How Johnson & Johnson Is Trying to Avoid Liability for Damage By Its Talc Products

Tens of thousands of women have since sued Johnson & Johnson, alleging their use of talcum products led to health complications, from respiratory illnesses to ovarian cancer. 

Some advocacy groups have gone so far as to suggest that Johnson & Johnson engaged in predatory behavior, actively marketing dangerous powders to African-American women, a demographic they viewed as integral to the baby powder industry’s continued relevance.5

Today, Johnson & Johnson faces a massive class action alongside a multitude of smaller-scale complaints. 

Midway through the summer, Johnson & Johnson participated in intensive negotiations with plaintiffs’ attorneys. According to Reuters, one of the company’s lawyers suggested Johnson & Johnson could pursue a bankruptcy plan that would diminish damages for people unwilling to settle beforehand.6

The maneuver, says Reuters, is called a “Texas two-step bankruptcy.”

The Texas Two-Step Bankruptcy

A so-called ‘Texas Two-Step’7 takes advantage of Texas’s so-called “divisive merger” law, which allows a large company to split into at least two, smaller entities.8 If Johnson & Johnson were to pursue a divisive merger, it could create a brand-new company housing all of its talcum-related liabilities—then file for bankruptcy, reducing plaintiffs’ ability to recover damages to which they may have otherwise been entitled. 

To date, Johnson & Johnson has paid billions of dollars in asbestos- and talcum-related litigation.9 Observers now believe that the company is trying to permanently cut its losses by separating its main business from its talcum interests. 

However, Johnson & Johnson has been reluctant to admit its strategy. “Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. has not decided on any particular course of action in this litigation other than to continue to defend the safety of talc and litigate these cases in the tort system, as the pending trials demonstrate,” a company subsidiary told Reuters in July.10

In her late-August ruling, Judge Silverstein did not offer comment on whether Johnson & Johnson’s probable strategy is likely to yield positive results. 

Instead, she opined that it would be improper for the judiciary to prevent a corporation from initiating a legal business maneuver—especially when such a maneuver is, at least for the time being, hypothetical.11

However, Silverstein did say that Imerys Talc America could take action to protest any step Johnson & Johnson may take toward a divisive merger. 

While Imerys is a co-defendant in asbestos- and talcum-related litigation, the company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and claims that Johnson & Johnson is liable for its legal costs. 

What This Means for Consumers Harmed By Johnson & Johnson’s Talc Products

Talc and Talcum Powder Injury Lawsuits Can Be Complex to Prove

Winning a mass tort lawsuit for injuries caused by hazardous cancer-causing chemicals like talc-based products can involve proving that manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson did not properly warn people taking it of the potential risks. 

That can include investigating medical studies, corporate publications and using testimony from experts on how the medication caused an injury. This is not easily done, particularly when drug companies show up with an army of lawyers.

But battling bullies is what Justinian & Associates does.

We Are Warriors For The Injured

Our Texas and San Antonio mass tort lawyers have successfully represented many victims injured by dangerous pharmaceuticals and other hazardous substances. That’s exactly why we were founded.

As our record demonstrates, we have the legal knowledge, the experience, the resources, experience and trained investigators to take on adversaries of any size.

All we do is fight for injured victims. Our only goal is justice for our clients, whatever that means for them. And we do not accept defeat. Unless we get you money for your injuries, you don’t pay us a dime.

The Time to Act is Now

Your rights can be lost if you wait.

There are laws that limit how much time you have to file a lawsuit after being injured. They are known as statutes of limitation. They may apply to your lawsuit to recover for your talc injuries. The countdown may already have begun. 

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with BRCA Negative ovarian cancer (fallopian, serous, serous invasive) by age 65, after four or more years of using talcum powder as a feminine hygiene product, now is the time to seek legal assistance. 

Call, text or email us for a free consultation, with no obligation. Speak to a Texas personal injury attorney from Justinian & Associates (not a “screener” or paralegal) to understand your rights.

[1] Judge ‘struggling’ with talc plaintiffs’ bid to block J&J asset maneuvering, Maria Chutchian, Reuters.com (August 24, 2021).

[2] Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder, Lisa Girion, Reuters.com (Dec. 14, 2018).

[3] Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder, Lisa Girion, Reuters.com (Dec. 14, 2018).

[4] Molecular basis supporting the association of talcum powder use with increased risk of ovarian cancer. Fletcher, N.M., Harper, A.K., Memaj, I., Fan, R., Morris, R.T. and Saed, G.M. Reproductive Sciences, 26(12), pp.1603-1612 (2019).

[5] Lawsuit: Johnson & Johnson Marketed Cancer-Causing Talcum Products to Black Women, Ryan J. Farrick, LegalReader.com (July 31, 2021).

[6] EXCLUSIVE: J&J exploring putting talc liabilities into bankruptcy. Mike Spector and Jessica DiNapoli, Dan Levine, Reuters.com, Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals (July 19, 2021).

[7] Ovarian Cancer Victims Ask Court to Block Johnson & Johnson’s ‘Texas Two-Step’ Bankruptcy Plan, Bloomberg.com (August 24, 2021).

[8] Structuring Divisive Mergers Under the Delaware and Texas Statutes, Strafford Continuing Legal Education Lecture (April 23, 2019).

[9] Supreme Court rejects Johnson & Johnson’s appeal of $2 billion penalty in baby powder cancer case, Tucker Higgins, CNBC.com (June 1, 2021).

[10] EXCLUSIVE: J&J exploring putting talc liabilities into bankruptcy. Mike Spector and Jessica DiNapoli, Dan Levine, Reuters.com, Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals (July 19, 2021).

[11] U.S. judge declines to stop J&J from splitting talc liabilities from main business, By Mike Spector and Maria Chutchian, Reuters.com (August 27, 2021).