Johnson & Johnson was once a well-respected company in this country and in many circles it still is. But based on our firm’s litigation experience with this company, I am convinced that Johnson & Johnson has lost its “moral compass.” As a result, profit is the real motivating factor in critical business decisions relating to safety made by Johnson & Johnson executives. Consumers would expect such a company to consistently produce and sell high-quality products and that the company would remove defective and dangerous products from the marketplace. I am confident that the public would also expect a quick and thorough investigation by Johnson & Johnson when safety and health problems arise. The public would also expect fast and effective corrective action by the company when such a problem is found.
Consumers have the right to expect a company like Johnson & Johnson to make the consumers’ health, safety and well-being its first priority. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that is the way things work at Johnson & Johnson. I believe it’s appropriate to examine what has been going on with this giant pharmaceutical company relating to its “moral compass” and see how the company has dealt with heath and safety issues. Let’s use the scale of justice to see where Johnson and Johnson lands after reviewing some facts learned during litigation involving this company.
In the space of a few days starting on Sept. 29, 1982, seven people died in the Chicago area after taking cyanide-laced capsules of Extra-Strength Tylenol, the painkiller that was the drugmaker’s best-selling product. A year later, its share of the $1.2 billion analgesic market, which had plunged to 7 percent from 37 percent following the poisoning, had climbed back to 30 percent. What set apart Johnson & Johnson’s handling of that crisis from others? It placed consumers first by recalling 31 million bottles of Tylenol capsules from store shelves and offered replacement products that were safe and free of charge. That was the right change to do in 1982.
The recall of Tylenol in 1982 was costly. Johnson & Johnson spent more than $100 million for the 1982 recall and relaunch of Tylenol. That same year, Dr. Daniel Cramer of Harvard explained how the talc in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder was causing a significant risk of ovarian cancer in women. So the same year Johnson & Johnson was applauded for high ethics and for doing the right thing relating to Tylenol, the company turned its back on this early discovery of the risks of talc used by women for genital hygiene. I will say more about the talc litigation and what Johnson & Johnson knew, when they knew it, and how they responded.
As mentioned above, Johnson & Johnson was put on notice in the 1970s that these products could increase the risk of ovarian cancer when used in the genital area. J&J has never warned consumers about this risk and now faces hundreds, and we predict soon to be thousands, of lawsuits over this issue. Our firm led a team in a case in City of St. Louis Circuit Court where a jury found Johnson & Johnson liable for causing ovarian cancer resulting from the use of its talc-containing products such as Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower for feminine hygiene. The jury awarded the family of Plaintiff Jacqueline Fox $72 million after agreeing the products contributed to the development of her ovarian cancer.
The verdict includes $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages. The jury found Johnson & Johnson liable for negligence, failure to warn and conspiracy. We will try the second talc case against Johnson & Johnson in St. Louis starting on April 11. Our client, Gloria Ristesund, used Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder for years. She was diagnosed with Grade II Endometroid Cancer on Aug. 8, 2011. If you have questions about this litigation contact Ted Meadows, a lawyer in our firm’s Mass Torts Section, at Ted.Meadows@beasleyallen.com. Ted heads up our Talc litigation team.
Johnson & Johnson has thousands of lawsuits pending involving its transvaginal mesh (TVM) products. The company is currently facing thousands of lawsuits for improperly designing TVM implants. In 2013, a jury ruled that J&J had to pay a single Plaintiff $11 million in damages. The device at issue in that case was the Prolift, which was implanted in women to support sagging organs. This type of condition is common in older women whose pelvic muscles and organs all weakened after pregnancy and childbirth. A $1.2 million verdict was rendered against J&J for its TVT-O implant used to treat stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. These J&J products are defective, but J&J rushed them through the FDA process. There was never any testing of the product before it was put on the market. If you have questions about these cases contact Chad Cook, a lawyer in our firm’s Mass Torts Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Chad.Cook@beasleyallen.com.
In 2013, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay more than $2.2 billion in criminal and civil fines to settle accusations that it improperly promoted the antipsychotic drug Risperdal to older adults, children, and people with developmental disabilities. As part of the settlement, Johnson & Johnson has agreed to plead guilty to a criminal misdemeanor, acknowledging that it improperly marketed Risperdal to older adults for unapproved uses. Many product liability lawsuits have also been filed against J&J’s Risperdal for causing abnormal breast growth in male patients, an often painful and irreversible condition known as gynecomastia. Verdicts have been rendered by juries against J&J for Plaintiffs. If you have any questions about these cases, contact James Lampkin, a lawyer in our firm’s Mass Torts Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at James.Lampkin@beasleyallen.com.
Johnson & Johnson – the parent company of DePuy Orthopaedics – recalled the DePuy ASR XL Acetabular System and DePuy ASR Hip Resurfacing System hip implants in August 2010. According to a press release announcing the Johnson & Johnson hip replacement recall, these two hip implants were more than twice as likely to fail within five years as the expected rate for artificial hip replacements. One in eight patients who received one of the recalled DePuy hip replacements required repair surgery within five years of receiving the device. J&J paid more than $2.5 billion to resolve DePuy ASR lawsuits in 2013. J&J is still litigating Pinnacle cases. I will mention below a most significant jury verdict that was returned on March 17 in a Texas Federal Court. If you have questions about this litigation you can contact Lisa Courson, a lawyer in our Mass Torts Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Lisa.Courson@beasleyallen.com.
Thousands of lawsuits are pending against the manufacturer Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) and the co-marketer of Xarelto, Bayer Healthcare AG, alleging these companies failed to warn patients and physicians of the increased risks of irreversible and fatal internal bleeding when using Xarelto. These cases have been consolidated in New Orleans before United State District Judge Eldon Fallon. I have seen Arnold Palmer and several sports figures being used by Johnson & Johnson in television ads touting the benefits of Xarelto. I find that to be quite offensive knowing what Johnson knows about this drug. Andy Birchfield, who heads up our firm’s Mass Torts Section, was appointed by Judge Fallon to lead the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (PSC) for the entire litigation. Beasley Allen lawyer David Byrne is also working on these cases and can be reached at 800-898-2034 or by email at David.Byrne@beasleyallen.com.
The power morcellator is produced by several companies throughout the United States, the largest of which is Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary, Ethicon, Inc. When a woman suffers from painful fibroids on her uterine wall, her doctor may recommend surgical removal. In order to avoid the invasiveness and lengthy recovery time associated with traditional fibroid removal surgery, many doctors have turned to less-invasive techniques involving power morcellators.
Morcellators, which are medical devices, work by dividing tissue into small fragments inside of the body before it is removed. The problem with this method is that if any of the shredded tissue is malignant (cancerous) and is not removed it could migrate to other areas of the body. This could cause cancer to spread, significantly worsening a patient’s prognosis. In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a safety communication concerning power morcellator devices and the many dangers they pose to women. Because there is no reliable way for doctors to predict whether or not a woman has uterine cancer, the FDA discourages use of the device. If you have questions about this contact Melissa Prickett, a lawyer in our firm’s Mass Torts Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Melissa.Prickett@beasleyallen.com.
There is currently a multidistrict litigation (MDL) involving the Pinnacle hip prosthetics litigation. Johnson & Johnson is a Defendant in this litigation. The devices have caused a tremendous number of problems. I will write more on this litigation below and specifically will discuss a recent verdict.
What can we learn from all of this litigation about the corporate culture at Johnson & Johnson. It’s been proved that J&J’s wrongful actions have resulted in many deaths and injuries to innocent consumers. Many observers hold the Tylenol example as a beacon on how a company should respond to these types of health and safety problems. As we see from the Talcum powder and other cases mentioned above, however, it’s very clear that J&J only reacted the way it did with Tylenol because it could not hide the safety problem like it has done with its Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products for decades. The internal documents we obtained during pretrial discovery in the Fox case, which no person outside the company had ever seen, tell the real story about J&J’s corporate culture.
What Johnson and Johnson did to cover up what it knew to be the deadly cancer risk of its centerpiece product is simply outrageous. It’s hard to imagine how corporate executives could be so callous. But the internal company documents that were brought to light in the Fox trial show clearly that is exactly the case. Profits were put far ahead of the health and safety of Johnson & Johnson’s customers and the separation wasn’t even close.
When the deadly risk became known within Johnson & Johnson, a choice had to be made. The company could warn customers of the dangers and use a substitute for talc or it could elect to hide the health and safety risk and keep on selling a dangerous product. Johnson and Johnson chose to hide the risk and keep selling. Ms. Fox and many other innocent women have paid, and will continue to pay, with their lives. This company has a net worth of $90 billion and it has profited greatly while at the same time ignoring good safety practices.
Sources: Beasley Allen; Examiner.com; and Drugwatch.com
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