Pharmaceuticals giant Johnson & Johnson has set aside $3.9 billion in “litigation expenses,” including dealing with a years-long battle over its talc baby powder, of which one bottle was found to contain asbestos.
The company set aside the funds “primarily [for] talc related reserves and certain settlements,” it said in an SEC filing Monday.
This is substantially higher than the $400 million it set aside for litigation expenses in 2019.
The number of pending personal injury lawsuits related to its baby powder “continues to increase,” the company said. As of January 3, it faced 25,000 lawsuits over its baby powder in the US, it said.
In 2018, a Reuters report suggested Johnson & Johnson knew for years that its baby powder potentially contained small amounts of asbestos, a human carcinogen. The article prompted a stock selloff that erased about $40 billion from J&J’s market value in one day.
Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder contained talc, which is often found and mined near asbestos. According to company documents reviewed by Reuters, Johnson & Johnson knew about the potential contamination of asbestos in mining of talc as far back as 1971.
In May 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced it would discontinue sales of its talc-based baby powder in the US and Canada. The company said it “remains steadfastly confident in the safety of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder,” but said that demand had dropped off in the wake of the lawsuits.
The statement came just months after the company issued a recall of 33,000 bottles of its baby powder after testing found sub-trace amounts of asbestos in a single bottle in October 2019, prompting Walmart, CVS Health, and Rite Aid to pull it from their shelves.
Lawsuits have been primarily filed in state courts in Missouri, New Jersey, and California, alongside some outside of the US, Johnson & Johnson said in the SEC filing.
The majority of cases are pending in federal court, organized into a multi-district litigation in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, it said.
The company is also appealing to the US Supreme Court to overturn a verdict after the Missouri Court of Appeals asked it to pay $2.1 billion to a group of 22 women who alleged the company’s powder caused their ovarian cancer.