Johnson & Johnson settles California talc case in middle of trial: Bloomberg

Johnson & Johnson and its lawyers have stoutly defended against thousands of lawsuits claiming harm from talc powder, but this week the drugmaker found itself in a scenario where it was willing to settle. 

In the middle of a trial in California, the drugmaker agreed to pay more than $2 million to mesothelioma patient Linda O’Hagan, Bloomberg reports, citing people familiar with the deal. The trial had kicked off in early December, and Alameda County Judge Stephen Kaus on Monday delivered news about the settlement.  

A J&J spokeswoman said via email that “in litigation of every nature there are one-off situations where settlement is a reasonable alternative.”

The company’s move to settle doesn't change J&J's "overall position that our talc is safe, is asbestos-free and does not cause cancer,” she added. The drugmaker declined to comment about why it settled the case.

RELATED: Johnson & Johnson scores another talc win with California mesothelioma verdict 

The settlement amount is about half of the smallest jury award in a talc case, but a tiny fraction of the biggest, which rang in at $4.7 billion and covered 22 plaintiffs. J&J faces about 16,800 lawsuits alleging harm from talc, and every verdict that's been through the appeals process has been overturned, a spokeswoman said last month. 

Complicating the company’s defense last fall was an FDA test of one talc bottle that turned up “sub-trace” levels of asbestos, prompting J&J to recall one lot of the product out of an “abundance of caution.” The company then tested the bottle and others and found that the batch contained no asbestos. For its part, the FDA stood by the result.

In O'Hagan's case, plaintiff's attorneys discussed the FDA test and J&J recall in opening arguments, according to law firm Beasley Allen, which represents plaintiffs in the talc litigation. It's not the only trial where the recall was mentioned, however.

RELATED: Can J&J, on the litigation hot seat, hold off long-term brand and reputation damage?

Juries in the last four talc trials have sided with the drugmaker, J&J's spokeswoman said Monday. Also Monday, a California judge dismissed a separate lawsuit against the drugmaker. 

J&J has opted to defend against most of the lawsuits in court, but the drugmaker did settle three mesothelioma cases last year in California, New York and Oklahoma state courts, a plaintiffs' attorney told Reuters.

Amid the talc litigation and other issues, the drugmaker's reputation has tumbled to second-to-last among pharma companies, reputation consultancy Alva said in October. In 2014, the company had been in the top 10 in the industry.