Imerys Unit Said to Settle Talc Case for at Least $5 Million
(Bloomberg) -- A unit of Imerys SA agreed to settle claims by 22 women that talc it supplied to Johnson & Johnson for baby powder was tainted with asbestos and caused their cancers.
The Paris-based minerals company’s unit didn’t acknowledge that the talc was tainted or dangerous. The terms of the settlement are closely guarded and won’t be made public. But according to two people familiar with the matter, the accord includes a payment of at least $5 million.
The settlement comes as a trial over the women’s ovarian cancer claims is set to start June 6 in St. Louis, leaving J&J and its consumer-products unit as the only defendants in the case. The deal gets Imerys out of a high-profile case focusing in part on whether it sold its talc knowing it was tainted with asbestos. Imerys says its talc is free of the carcinogen.
Imerys Talc America “has reached a resolution with the 22 plaintiffs and is being dismissed from the action,” Gwen Myers, a company spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement without commenting on the settlement’s details.
Mark Lanier, the women’s lead lawyer, declined to comment on the settlement.
The women may have accepted the relatively modest payment from Imerys to gain a tactical advantage at trial, said Jean Eggen, a Widener University law professor.
“It will make the trial cleaner because now Lanier can put all his eggs in the J&J basket and not have to worry about evidence against Imerys,” she said.
The case is part of a recent wave of trials over allegations J&J’s Baby Powder’s iconic white bottles were filled with asbestos-laced talc and the company failed to warn consumers about its cancer risks. J&J steadfastly maintains there is no asbestos in its baby powder and the product is safe.
“We will continue to defend the safety of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder,” Carol Goodrich, a company spokeswoman, said Friday.
Imerys faces about 9,000 claims that talc it supplied to J&J caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, another form of cancer that has been specifically linked to asbestos.
The company has been forced to defend itself in a string of trials, most recently in New Jersey, where a jury ordered Imerys and J&J in April to pay $117 million to a banker who claimed his asbestos-linked cancer was tied to baby powder use.
Jurors said J&J was liable for 70 percent of those damages while Imerys picked up the remaining 30 percent. The companies have asked the trial judge to throw out the award.
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J&J has lost four cases and Imerys has lost two over ovarian cancer that were tried in state court in St. Louis during a 15-month period starting in February 2016.
The first of those plaintiffs’ verdicts against J&J, for $72 million, was thrown out on procedural grounds last year after the U.S. Supreme Court limited where non-resident plaintiffs could bring their state-court cases to trial. Imerys won three verdicts in St. Louis and has also won some judgments dismissing it before trial, including one in California that ended in a verdict against J&J last month.
Most of the 22 plaintiffs pressing claims in the current case are from outside Missouri. J&J and Imerys challenged their ability to bring them in St. Louis based on the high court’s ruling. Some of the women have died, so their families are pressing wrongful-death claims against J&J.
Judge Rex Burlison, who is overseeing the case, found Imerys’s sales of talc to a Missouri manufacturing company provided a basis for jurisdiction of the out-of-state plaintiffs’ claims. After that decision, both companies asked the Missouri Supreme Court to stop the June trial by challenging the bundling of non-resident claims.
Imerys dropped its request after settling the cases. The state Supreme Court May 25 denied J&J’s petition and cleared the way for the cases to go to trial.
The consolidated case is Ingham v. Johnson & Johnson, in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri; Cause No. 1522-CC10417-01, Division Ten.
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