J&J Hid Asbestos Testing of Baby Powder with Confidentiality Order
In a bombshell news report, Reuters details how Johnson & Johnson knew about tests that asbestos contaminated their baby powder since the 1970s, and yet hid it from the public. Asbestos history is a sordid affair of lies and cover-ups, in which corporations were willing to kill for profit. J&J has started losing at trial to local attorney Mark Lanier (who puts on a wonderful trial advocacy clinic we attended), and the facts are now coming out. J&J apparently exposed the entirety of America to asbestos through its baby powder. J&J’s relied on flawed testing methods, while hiding their own smoking gun test results. Even when it came out in litigation, they designated the documents confidential to hide test results from the public. Read for yourself. https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/johnsonandjohnson-cancer/
This is why we fight protective orders for corporate defendants, or at least have a provision that lets us challenge confidentiality designations. How this works in practice is that corporations ask for protective order before handing over internal documents on the theory that their proprietary trade secrets shouldn’t be made public. Then corporations take all the evidence of their bad acts and designate them confidential. The intent is to quash news stories of companies acting badly. In this case, Reuters did America a service by bringing bad acts to light.
To show the corporate mindset, J&J is still claiming that tests results finding asbestos in the baby powder are outliers. Plaintiffs’ evidence strongly contradicts this claim. But nevertheless, who wants to play Russian roulette over a talc powder, when corn starch could be substituted? J&J thinks it’s OK.
Wallstreet is badly underestimating how much this revelation will affect the company. JNJ stock is down 9% today. J&J has a market cap of around $359 billion. But Mark Lanier’s last jury trial had a verdict of $4.69 billion. And now every person in the country with a pathology report showing asbestos has a claim against the company, with evidence for punitive damages.