J&J settles first talc cases to go to trial after failed bankruptcies

The logo of Johnson & Johnson is seen on the top of a Brussels' office of the company in Diegem

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson on Thursday said it has settled two lawsuits claiming its talc products caused cancer, the first such cases to go to trial since a federal court rejected the company's plan to move its talc liabilities into bankruptcy court.

The settlements resolved lawsuits brought by two men, Rosalino Reyes and Marlin Eagles, who said they developed mesothelioma related to asbestos in J&J talc powder, and was part of a broader deal to settle all talc cases brought by the law firm representing them, Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood, the company said. Reyes' family continued his lawsuit after he died in 2020.

The company faces more than 50,000 lawsuits over talc, most by women with ovarian cancer. It has said that its talc products are safe and do not contain asbestos.

J&J and the plaintiffs' lawyers did not disclose any terms of the settlement, or how many cases it covered. Reyes' trial had begun last week, while Eagles' was about to begin, with a jury chosen.

"The Eagles and the Reyes families express thanks to the jurors and courtroom personnel who participated in the trial," Joseph Satterley and Denyse Clancy, attorneys for the plaintiffs, said in a joint statement.

"Our negotiations continue with the remaining firms who have a shared interest in achieving a fair and expedient resolution of their clients talc claims," J&J said in a statement.

"For those firms who elect not to pursue reasoned resolutions, we will continue to aggressively litigate their claims in the tort system, where we have prevailed in the overwhelming majority of the cases tried because the claims are meritless and are based upon junk science."

Trials in the cases have a mixed record, with major plaintiff wins including a $2.1 billion judgment awarded to 22 women with ovarian cancer. A New Jersey appeals court last month threw out a $223.7 million verdict against the company, finding the testimony of the plaintiffs' expert witnesses unsound.

The company stopped selling talc-based baby powder in favor of cornstarch-based products, citing an increase in lawsuits and "misinformation" about the talc product's safety.

The settlement comes after J&J failed for a second time in July to move tens of thousands of claims over talc into bankruptcy court, where it hoped to resolve them through a proposed $8.9 billion settlement. It is appealing that ruling.

Trials had mostly been on hold while J&J petitioned the bankruptcy court, but have now been able to resume.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Bill Berkrot)