In talc defense, Johnson & Johnson sues 4 doctors over their 'junk litigation opinions'

As Johnson & Johnson awaits a decision on its second attempt to resolve talc lawsuits through a bankruptcy ploy, the company is attempting another legal tactic to free itself from those liabilities—suing doctors who say that its iconic baby powder can cause cancer.

In federal district court in New Jersey, J&J’s talc subsidiary LTL Management has filed two suits against four doctors who authored studies that described a link between J&J’s talc-based products and cancer.

Last week, J&J filed suit against New Hampshire physician Richard Lawrence Kradin and Virginia doctors Theresa Swain Emory and John Coulter Maddox. In a separate suit in May, J&J sued New York physician Jacqueline Miriam Moline.

In the most recent suit, J&J claims that the three doctors cited 75 people with malignant mesothelioma who had been exposed to cancer-causing asbestos only by using Johnson’s Baby Powder or another J&J talc product, Shower to Shower.

But the company says that at least six of the 75 had potentially been exposed to asbestos in other ways. In the May lawsuit, J&J made similar claims against Moline.

All the doctors named in the lawsuits have been called to testify in talc cases against J&J and their studies have been used to bolster personal injury cases against the company.

“The Emory article demonstrates plaintiffs’ experts’ tactics to pollute the scientific literature,” J&J wrote in its complaint. “They publish their junk litigation opinions in scientific journals. They use their credentials to instill their publications with false credibility. They then build from that fraudulent foundation by citing to each other’s work.”

In a statement, J&J explained that its second lawsuit was filed against three doctors “who were paid millions by the plaintiffs’ bar to deliberately defame our products,” said J&J’s legal chief Erik Haas.

In the complaint, J&J said that the trio have made "careers and small fortunes" testifying almost exclusively for plaintiffs in asbestos trials.

While maintaining that its talc products are safe, J&J has taken its baby powder off shelves in the U.S. and Canada and is doing the same worldwide this year. The company now sells a cornstarch version of the baby powder. 

"The safety of our talcum powder products is supported by decades of evidence by independent experts, governments and regulatory bodies," Haas said.

J&J has had mixed success in court, with a high-profile trial in Missouri resulting in a $4.7 billion verdict against the drugmaker in 2018, which was later reduced to $2.1 billion after appeals.

J&J has lost nine talc trials that 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. 

Last month, New Jersey bankruptcy judge Michael Kaplan heard arguments in J&J’s second bankruptcy attempt—which comes along with an $8.9 billion settlement offer to resolve tens of thousands of talc lawsuits.

J&J’s first Chapter 11 attempt was dismissed in April when a U.S. appeals court decided that the company was not in the financial distress needed to secure bankruptcy protection.