Justice Department Pursues Criminal Investigation of Johnson & Johnson Over Talc Products and Asbestos Contamination


Johnson & Johnson’s stock price tumbled on Friday after Bloomberg reported that the company is the subject of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). According to sources with knowledge of the matter, they are looking into whether the company lied in public statements about potential cancer risks associated with its talc products.

For years, Johnson & Johnson rebuffed those who came forward with cancer claims related to the company’s talc products. They still claim that their products have always been free of asbestos, a toxic mineral that can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis, and has been linked to a number of other diseases.

In February, as part of its Annual Report, Johnson & Johnson acknowledged that it had been subpoenaed by the DOJ, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

The requests were prompted by a Reuters investigation, which found evidence Johnson & Johnson was aware of the presence of asbestos in its talc mines.

The company has said that it is complying with all inquiries, but until Friday, the public had little idea about the nature of these investigations, nor that a federal grand jury had convened in Washington as part of a criminal probe.

Will the Justice Department Uncover More J&J Lies About Asbestos?

Knowing that the department is conducting a criminal probe could change the timetables for the more than 14,000 cancer patients and their families who are involved in lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson. Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit told Bloomberg that:

“[A grand jury inquiry] will make it more difficult for Johnson & Johnson to settle the civil cases as long as there is a continuing criminal investigation, which may require employees to testify before a federal grand jury.

Civil plaintiffs may not want to settle until they know better whether criminal charges will be filed, which they can use to aid their cases.”

After all, documents coming to light have not been a good thing for Johnson & Johnson. In the past 3 years, the world’s largest healthcare products manufacturer has been hit with some $5 Billion in damages in talc lawsuits alone. The most compelling pieces of proof in their trial losses have been confidential documents uncovered during trial proceedings.

If the Justice Department opts to file a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, there is a possibility that more damning evidence will also come to light. Whether or not that happens, the evidence out there already demonstrates the company’s weak commitment to transparency.

What Lies Have Been Uncovered So Far?

As the Reuters investigation of these internal memos showed, the company had positive tests for asbestos in their talc mines. The 2 minerals, talc and asbestos, are often found together underground, making the threat of contamination constant.

Instead of alerting regulators, as is required to by law, Johnson & Johnson devised new ways to screen for asbestos until their tests allegedly found none.

With the regulators in the dark because of Johnson & Johnson’s deceit by omission, the company then put the public at even greater risk. Instead of sending their customers an updated warning about possible asbestos contamination, Johnson & Johnson began to promote their potentially dangerous product for daily use.

No End in Sight for Johnson & Johnson’s Legal Battles

Thousands of people have alleged that their cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s tainted talc products. The company continues to deny all charges. They have successfully appealed several talc lawsuits, but news of the criminal investigation reignited fears that there are more skeletons in the closet.

At this point, the timeline for the federal investigation is uncertain. The inquiry could drag on for several years, and if the Justice Department decides not to file charges, it may be that none of what the DOJ learns will become public knowledge.

In addition to the talc lawsuits and investigations, Johnson & Johnson’s is wrapping up a high-profile opioid lawsuit brought by the state of Oklahoma. “After over a month of testimony,” said Attorney General Mike Hunter,

“We believe that Johnson & Johnson is the Kingpin behind the opioid crisis that has caused the deaths of thousands of Oklahomans and created a generation of people addicted to opioids in our state.”

Here, too, Johnson & Johnson has tried to position itself as the victim of litigation. Hunter’s charges, however, reflect those in more than 2,000 other similar cases against opioid manufacturers brought by towns, cities, tribes, and other states.

Regardless of the outcome of the Oklahoma trial or the new federal criminal investigation, there is a change in the air. And it’s not just for Johnson & Johnson. For too long, companies have been allowed to mislead the public about the dangers of their products, drugs and medical devices.

But people who were once injured in isolation have been brought together by new media. They can now share their stories and advocate to be treated as equals who deserve to know the truth about what they consent to use.

Anything less is a crime. For more than 40 years, Sokolove Law has been helping clients exercise their legal rights. If you think we can help, contact us today.

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Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

The Sokolove Law Content Team is made up of writers, editors, and journalists. We work with case managers and attorneys to keep site information up to date and accurate. Our site has a wealth of resources available for victims of wrongdoing and their families.

Last modified: September 12, 2020

  1. Bloomberg, “J&J Denials of Asbestos in Baby Powder Spur Criminal Probe.” Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-12/j-j-denials-of-asbestos-in-baby-powder-spur-u-s-criminal-probe. Accessed on July 16, 2019.

  2. Office of Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, “After Resting Case, State Points to Critical Evidence that Shows Johnson & Johnson is Kingpin Behind State’s Opioid Epidemic.” Retrieved from http://www.oag.ok.gov/after-resting-case-state-points-to-critical-evidence-that-shows-johnson-johnson-is-kingpin-behind-states-opioid-epidemic. Accessed on July 16, 2019.

  3. Johnson & Johnson, “Annual Report on Form 10-K for FY 2018.” Retrieved from https://johnsonandjohnson.gcs-web.com/node/44596/html. Accessed on July 16, 2019.

  4. Reuters, “Johnson & Johnson Knew for Decades that Asbestos Lurked in Its Baby Powder.” Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/johnsonandjohnson-cancer/. Accessed on July 16, 2019.