In a U.S. bankruptcy court, the lead negotiators for Johnson & Johnson’s $8.9 billion proposed compensation of thousands of talc lawsuits were questioned about the level of support the company has for the deal. Lawyers for plaintiffs alleging that J&J’s talc products caused cancer examined the company’s public statements claiming “secured commitments from over 60,000 current claimants” and that the “majority” of talc claimants support the compensation. The deal has caused division among lawyers representing cancer – victims who claim that J&J has misled them into believing that the settlement offers fair compensation. The company is trying to use the second bankruptcy of its subsidiary, LTL Management, to resolve all current and future claims related to its talc products.
In April, LTL attempted to file for bankruptcy but was dismissed by a U.S. appeals court due to insufficient financial distress. Despite this setback, LTL filed for bankruptcy again, claiming that their second attempt garnered more support from plaintiffs. J&J has maintained that its talc products are asbestos-free and safe for use.
However, lawyers representing cancer victims, as well as the U.S. Justice Department’s bankruptcy watchdog, Have criticized LTL’s second bankruptcy filing as an abuse of U.S. bankruptcy law. Before LTL’s first bankruptcy filing in October 2021, J&J had already faced 38,000 talc lawsuits. The total number of claims is expected to increase as more individuals may file suits against J&J. The proposed settlement would resolve all unfiled claims and any future claims that link J&J talc products to cancer.
According to Moshe Maimon, a lawyer representing cancer – victims who are against the settlement, the majority of the 60,000 claims counted by J&J are represented by only four law firms. Maimon noted that none of the clients of those law firms have yet agreed to support the deal.
When asked about this, lawyers who are in favor of the settlement confirmed Maimon’s interpretation. They stated that while they would recommend the deal, it is up to their clients to make the final decision.
One lawyer, Mikal Watts, who supports the deal and has 17,000 talc clients, disagreed with J&J’s statement about “secured commitments.” He commented that the PR department did not consult with legal and that it was a sloppy mistake.
Watts, who led the plaintiffs’ negotiations on the compensation, is currently vetting many of his clients to ensure that they have valid claims against J&J.
During the settlement negotiations, Jim Murdica, J&J’s external legal counsel and chief negotiator, defended the company’s public statements. He disagreed with Maimon’s suggestion that the plaintiffs represented by Watts should not be considered supporters. Murdica also stated that several law firms support the settlement, although not all of them have publicly declared their support. When questioned, he declined to provide the names of these firms.
The bankruptcy case of LTL is under the supervision of U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michael Kaplan. He instructed Murdica to refrain from making unsupported claims about the settlement’s level of support. Specifically, he prohibited Murdica from testifying that LTL has more supporters than it has revealed, that a majority of claims support the deal, or that plaintiffs’ attorneys would face threats or harassment if they endorsed the settlement.
The hearing is expected to continue for the entire week.
J&J Short (Sell)
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