J&J proposes $8.9B talc settlement deal but some plaintiffs decry 'woefully inadequate' offer

After recent setbacks, Johnson & Johnson is looking to end its talc litigation with a sweeping settlement.

The drugmaker on Tuesday said it’s offering $8.9 billion over 25 years to resolve all lawsuits claiming that the company’s talc-containing baby powders caused cancer. The deal proposal comes after years of litigation and a high-profile, $2 billion verdict which J&J unsuccessfully appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

The settlement proposal would end litigation that could otherwise take decades in the courts, J&J’s vice president of litigation, Erik Haas, said in a Tuesday press release. It would compensate the claimants “in a timely manner” while allowing J&J to focus on its business, Haas added.

The figure represents a major step up from the original $2 billion that J&J previously committed as part of a bankruptcy process for a special purpose subsidiary called LTL Management. The deal's value, at $8.9 billion at present, would swell to about $12 billion after it’s fully realized in about 25 years, according to J&J.

But some plaintiffs aren't having it. In a Tuesday statement, lawyers for tens of thousands of them said the company is "seeking an extremely deep discount on justice and is not really offering anything other than another bankruptcy and more delay tactics.

"An $8.9 billion amount is woefully inadequate to cover even the current ovarian cancer and mesothelioma claims, much less any future claims," the lawyers with Beasley Allen added.

In a separate statement, lawyers for about 70,000 talc plaintiffs said they support the proposal. “Our job is to get our clients fairly paid for their injuries, and this settlement is the culmination of a job well done," Mikal Watts of Watts Guerra LLC said in a statement.

The proposal follows a major legal setback for J&J after a U.S. court of appeals rejected LTL’s bankruptcy plan. J&J set up LTL in 2021 to shoulder all talc-related claims and to shield the conglomerate from potentially bigger losses. After that effort failed, tens of thousands of cases were set to move ahead against the drugmaker. As part of the new settlement offer, J&J said its subsidiary has refiled for bankruptcy. 

J&J said it continues to deny any wrongdoing and insists that its talc products are safe. At the same time, the company has decided to stop selling the products worldwide in favor of a cornstarch version.

J&J's offer comes after years of litigation, including a high-profile trial that resulted in a $4.7 billion verdict against the drugmaker. The verdict was later reduced to $2.1 billion after appeals, and J&J said it would take that case all the way to the Supreme Court.

J&J has lost nine talc trials which are either on appeal or have been resolved. Out of 41 trials, 32 have ended in a win by J&J, a mistrial or plaintiff verdicts that were reversed on appeal.

Separately, the company in 2020 moved to settle around 1,000 cases for $100 million, Bloomberg reported at the time.

If finalized, this deal would rank among the largest in pharma history. In fact, it would be outdone by J&J's own $26 billion opioid settlement, struck between the drug giant and leading distributors, and Bayer's $10 billion Roundup deal.

Other leading pharma settlements in history have been struck by ⁠GSK, ⁠Pfizer and ⁠J&J.

Editor's note: This story was updated with statements from lawyers for talc plaintiffs.