J&J's good news, bad news day in talc court yields win in South Carolina, $25M loss in New York

jnj
Johnson & Johnson faces about 14,200 talc cases, according to a recent SEC filing. (J&J)

In fighting thousands of talc lawsuits, Johnson & Johnson has won some and lost some—and that trend continued Tuesday as the drugmaker won a case in South Carolina but suffered a $25 million loss in New York.  

Shortly after a jury in South Carolina sided with the drugmaker in a suit blaming J&J's talcum powder for a plaintiff's mesothelioma, a New York jury slapped the company with a $25 million verdict, Bloomberg reports.

J&J plans to appeal in New York, as it has in other cases it's lost at the trial level, spokeswoman Kim Montagnino said. That trial "suffered significant legal and evidentiary errors—one of the most egregious being the demonstrably false testimony from the plaintiff’s central expert, which prompted us to move for mistrial," she said. "As the jury was prevented from being made aware of the falsities in his testimony, we believe these errors will warrant a reversal on appeal."

The South Carolina win was J&J's fifth favorable verdict in recent months, Montagnino added.

RELATED: What to do when an exposé tanks your stock? For J&J, you go direct to consumers

The two verdicts extend J&J's mixed record in defending its talc-based baby powder, an iconic product in the healthcare giant's lineup. Baby powder doesn’t generate all that much in sales, but it has helped shape the company’s image for decades. 

In March, the company won a case in New Jersey but suffered a $29 million loss in California. The company has pledged to appeal whenever it has lost, and its efforts on that score have been successful: As of March, “of all the talc-related verdicts against Johnson & Johnson that have been through the appeals process, each one has been overturned,” Montagnino said. The drugmaker did settle three cases earlier this year, however, according to reports.

RELATED: Weeks after California loss, J&J scores talc victory close to home 

Last year, jurors in St. Louis hit the company with a massive $4.69 billion verdict after a trial that combined the claims of 22 women with ovarian cancer. At the time, J&J said it was "deeply disappointed in the verdict, which was the product of a fundamentally unfair process that allowed plaintiffs to present a group of 22 women, most of whom had no connection to Missouri, in a single case all alleging that they developed ovarian cancer." 

At the end of 2018, Reuters published a damaging report claiming J&J knew about—and worked to hide—asbestos in its talc for decades. Shareholders sent the company’s stock sharply down on the report, and share prices still haven’t fully recovered. Plaintiffs' lawyers had previously highlighted internal documents showing conversations among J&J execs about asbestos testing, as FiercePharma reported last February.

RELATED: Johnson & Johnson says talc products have always been asbestos-free. Court documents suggest otherwise

On Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky told CNBC’s Meg Tirrell the company is “concerned” about the lawsuits. He's sympathetic to the patients involved, but drugmakers are a magnet for lawsuits, he said.

“It starts on a very human side," Gorsky said. “Whenever somebody has a diagnosis or has an issue that they're trying to understand, I think all of us have to remember the human side of all of these, and at the same time we have to understand that we are in a very litigious industry. We do our very best to always put quality and safety first in everything that we do.” 

As of its latest quarterly filing, J&J faced about 14,200 cases alleging harm from talc. Several units of the company’s talc supplier Imerys have filed for bankruptcy amid potentially “historic” liabilities from the lawsuits. 

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