Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has decided to take legal action against four doctors who published studies linking talc-based personal care products to cancer.
The company claims that these scientific studies are inaccurate and is escalating its attack on them.
J&J's subsidiary, LTL Management, which took on the talc liability in a controversial spinoff in 2021, has filed a lawsuit in a New Jersey federal court.
The aim of the lawsuit is to compel three researchers to retract or correct a study that suggested asbestos-contaminated consumer talc products could lead to mesothelioma in patients.
Richard Kradin, one of the researchers, has chosen not to comment on the matter. The other two researchers, Theresa Emory and John Maddox, have not responded to requests for comment. Lawyers who have previously represented the three researchers in similar litigation have also declined to comment.
J&J is currently facing over 38,000 lawsuits alleging that their talc products, including baby powder, were contaminated with asbestos and caused various cancers such as ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
The company is seeking to resolve these lawsuits, as well as any future talc-related litigation, through an $8.9 billion settlement in bankruptcy court.
However, J&J denies the allegations saying that their talc products are free from asbestos and are considered safe.
Due to the rise in lawsuits and misinformation surrounding the safety of their talc product, J&J has discontinued the sale of talc-based baby powder and now offers cornstarch-based alternatives, but it is still widely available throughout India.
Child rights groups, parents, and doctors in India have been raising concerns about the ongoing availability of the product. Surprisingly, Indian drug regulators have remained silent on this matter, thereby permitting the widespread sale and distribution of this product in the country.
In an effort to address the ongoing lawsuits, J&J has contemplated bankruptcy as a potential solution.
While some trials have resulted in victories for the company, there have also been significant losses, including a $2.1 billion verdict awarded to 22 women who claimed that asbestos in J&J's talc products caused their ovarian cancer.
The company's talc-related expenses, including verdicts, settlements, and legal fees, have amounted to approximately $4.5 billion.
Another lawsuit has been filed by LTL, this time against pathologists Emory and Maddox from Peninsula Pathology Associates in Newport News, Virginia, as well as pulmonologist Kradin, who was previously associated with Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.
This follows a similar complaint filed in late May against Dr Jacqueline Moline of Northwell Health in Great Neck, New York.
In 2019, an article was published by Moline, that examined 33 patients who claimed their sole exposure to asbestos came from talc products. This was followed by a study in 2020 conducted by Emory, Kradin, and Maddox, which looked at 75 similar patients.
According to the complaints, all four doctors have provided expert testimony in lawsuits against J&J. Additionally, their research has been referenced in lawsuits where they did not testify.
LTL has accused the researchers of concealing the fact that some or all of the patients involved in their studies had been exposed to asbestos from sources other than talc products.
Furthermore, the company is requesting the court to compel the researchers to disclose the identities of the patients involved in the studies.
The lawsuits filed include allegations of product disparagement and fraud, alongside other claims.
According to Adam Zimmerman, a professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, it is uncommon for companies to initiate lawsuits based on disagreements with research findings.
Proving that the researchers intentionally damaged J&J's reputation, a requirement for product disparagement cases in New Jersey, will be a challenging task for LTL.
However, Zimmerman suggests that the company may perceive these lawsuits as a means to discourage other researchers and regain control over the narrative surrounding talc safety.
Zimmerman remarked that when a litigant starts suing opposing experts, it is seen as a highly aggressive move that signals a shift in the approach to the case.
In court papers, Moline has argued that if LTL is granted the ability to reveal the identities of patients in order to publicly defame them, it would have a profoundly chilling effect on future medical research. She claims that LTL's lawsuit is intended to "attack and silence" scientists and asserts her ethical responsibility to safeguard the identities of her research subjects.
LTL has filed lawsuits claiming that the doctors' research enabled them to receive substantial sums of money from plaintiffs' lawyers, in order to promote a "false narrative" about J&J.
One of the complaints alleges that Moline, for instance, has earned a significant amount of money as a paid expert witness in asbestos lawsuits, receiving over $3 million for her work. LTL also asserts that Kradin has made over $3 million testifying as an expert for plaintiffs.
Efforts to reach the researchers for comment were unsuccessful.
In December 2022, LTL had previously filed similar lawsuits against the researchers. However, these complaints were connected to LTL's initial bankruptcy filing and were subsequently dismissed in April, along with the rest of the bankruptcy proceedings.
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