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Johnson & Johnson sued by cancer victims alleging 'fraudulent' transfers, bankruptcies

Cancer victims sued Johnson & Johnson claiming the healthcare company "executed a scheme through a series of corporate transactions" to prevent victims of its "asbestos-contaminated" talcum powder from receiving their day in court and proper compensation.

The five individuals who filed the proposed class action suit Wednesday in New Jersey federal court seek to represent anyone who, as of Aug. 11, 2023, either had pending litigation alleging asbestos or other ingredients in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products caused them to develop ovarian cancer or mesothelioma.

The suit stems from Johnson & Johnson's filing for bankruptcy multiple times, and in different states, to resolve tens of thousands of lawsuits claiming the company's talcum baby powder caused cancer. Earlier this month, Johnson & Johnson announced that a third bankruptcy filing of a subsidiary company would allow it to move forward with a $6.475 billion proposed settlement for the victims, Reuters reported.

In this photo illustration, a container of Johnson and Johnson baby powder is displayed on April 05, 2023, in San Anselmo, California.
In this photo illustration, a container of Johnson and Johnson baby powder is displayed on April 05, 2023, in San Anselmo, California.

A three-month voting period is underway to reach a consensus settlement for current and future victims who claim the baby powder caused ovarian cancer, which accounts for 99% of talcum-related suits against Johnson & Johnson, according to Reuters. People with talcum-related claims are the ones voting in support or against the settlement, the outlet said.

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“This latest filing – signed again by the same small group of plaintiffs lawyers who have fought every single effort to resolve this litigation to date – is more of the same," Erik Haas, worldwide vice president of litigation for Johnson & Johnson, told USA TODAY in a statement. "The question remains: Why won’t they let claimants decide for themselves what is or is not in their own best interest? Why are they so desperate to stop the vote?

The complaint calls Johnson & Johnson's third bankruptcy filing an "unfulfilled scheme."

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How did Johnson & Johnson execute the alleged scheme?

The suit says Johnson & Johnson used a "Texas two-step" maneuver to commit fraud and stop victims' lawsuits. The tactic involved the company putting its talcum liabilities and other valuable assets into a new subsidiary only to file for bankruptcy two days later in 2021, according to the complaint.

The bankruptcy stopped suits from moving ahead against Johnson and Johnson, although the company did not file for bankruptcy itself, Reuters reported. Courts did ultimately rule that Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary were not struggling financially, therefore they were not eligible for bankruptcy, according to the outlet.

Two other tactics allegedly used by Johnson & Johnson are called "asset stripping fraud” and "bait-and-switch fraud," the suit says. Both methods involved the company dumping or cutting funds and assets, the complaint continued.

All three "connected fraudulent transfers" aimed to achieve the same goal of "hindering and delaying tort victims from recovery against (Johnson & Johnson) and its operating subsidiaries," the complaint says.

'Make no mistake, the facts are clear'

Regardless of the recent suit's allegations, Johnson & Johnson's focus remains to settle the suits brought against its company.

"Make no mistake, the facts are clear," Haas said in his statement to USA TODAY. "The Company has offered one of the largest resolutions in the history of mass tort litigation. It has prevailed in 16 of 17 ovarian cancer trials, including every ovarian trial for the past six years."

The company has reached separate settlements with law firms repping mesothelioma patients and with U.S. states who accused the company of failing to warn consumers about how dangerous its talcum products could be, Reuters reported. In a recent trial, a judge ordered Johnson and Johnson to pay $45 million in a mesothelioma case while winning an ovarian cancer case, according to the outlet.

"Our focus has been and will remain reaching a full, fair and final resolution of this litigation, and allowing the claimants to speak for themselves," Haas said. "We will immediately move to dismiss this latest ‘hail Mary’ frivolous filing.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Johnson & Johnson talc powder lawsuit alleges 'fraudulent' bankruptcies