Back in 2016 we took a look at the enormous legal fight surrounding talcum powder produced by Johnson & Johnson. At the time, a judge ruled that the company had to pay $72 million to a group of 60 plaintiffs who said they contracted ovarian cancer from using J&J baby powder. But that settlement was far from the end of the pharmaceutical giant’s problems as it continues to face thousands of talc-related lawsuits all over the country.
In fact, this summer J&J got slapped with a fine so large that it makes the 2016 settlement look like chump change. According to the ruling of a Missouri Circuit Court judge, the company must pay a whopping $4.7 billion to a group of women afflicted by ovarian cancer. These plaintiffs allege that J&J knew that its talc products contained carcinogenic asbestos since the 1970s yet did nothing to warn customers about the dangers. The company tried to reverse this verdict last month but Judge Rex Burlison rejected their claim, saying there was “substantial evidence” of “particularly reprehensible conduct” by J&J. The judge also said that executives “knew of the presence of asbestos in products that they knowingly targeted for sale to mothers and babies, knew of the damage their products caused, and misrepresented the safety of these products for decades.”
News about J&J’s legal defeat sent its stock price plummeting as far as 13 percent over the course of December. This loss of more than $50 billion in market value will likely hurt the company more than any court settlement ever could. So while J&J can still appeal the ruling over its $4.7 billion fine, repairing its reputation with investors and the public could be a far more difficult task.
- Do you think Johnson & Johnson should face a criminal investigation for allegedly ignoring the presence of asbestos in its talcum powder? Why or why not?
- Why is it important for companies to maintain a good reputation with investors and the public?