Attorney behind a huge talc verdict: J&J's stock drop 'serves my purposes' in seeking a settlement

By | December 18, 2018

Attorney Mark Lanier, who won a nearly $ 4.7 billion talc verdict against Johnson & Johnson this summer, told CNBC Tuesday the recent plunge in shares of J&J plays into his hands in seeking a settlement with the company.

The New York Times piled on over the weekend. But the stock has a ways to go to recover Friday’s 10 percent decline.

Lanier, founder and lead litigation counsel at his namesake law firm, represented 22 women, and their families, who claim J&J’s talc-based products, including its baby powder, contain asbestos and caused them to develop ovarian cancer. In August, a Missouri judge affirmed the nearly $ 4.7 billion jury award. J&J said at the time that it was confident the decision would be overturned on appeal.

J&J wasn’t immediately available to respond to Lanier’s comments.

Speaking generally about the talc lawsuits, J&J Chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky said on CNBC’s “Mad Money” on Monday evening, “We always have empathy and sympathy for patients that have been diagnosed with cancer.” But Gorsky argued the science “simply doesn’t support” some of the correlations being drawn by patients in the suits.

“I think if we look and we step back and take a broader look at the more recent cases, really over the last 12, 18, or even 24 months, there’s been about 40 in total,” Gorsky told CNBC’s Jim Cramer. “About 35 of those have gone our way, either through decision and appeal [and] dismissal. The five outstanding, those are also under appeal.”

He added, “We’re confident in going forward, and we think that, frankly, the science stands behind us.”

“If the company handles the litigation right, it’s extremely manageable for a company the size and strength of J&J,” Lanier said. “If the company continues to handle it wrongly, then I think the company is going to continue to have problems that cost it two, three, four, five times what it should.”

Among Lanier’s other major victories over his three decades of trial work were a $ 9 billion verdict in 2014 against Takeda Pharmaceutical and Eli Lilly over diabetes drug Actos and a $ 253 million verdict in 2005 in the nation’s first trial over the Merck-made painkiller Vioxx. Both verdicts were later slashed on post-verdict motions or appeal.

“Every case ultimately settles,” Lanier said in Tuesday’s “Squawk Box” interview. “I don’t know that I’ve ever had a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and then it’s paid in full. Every case finds resolution. At some point, it’s a business decision for the litigants as well as for the company. And smart minds can prevail on that.”

On CNBC Monday evening, Gorsky also defended J&J against those damaging reports from Reuters and The New York Times. “We unequivocally believe that our talc, our baby powder, does not contain asbestos,” said Gorsky, who worked at J&J since 1988 and became CEO in 2012. He also reiterated his company’s categorical denial of the reports.

After Monday’s closing bell on Wall Street, Johnson & Johnson announced plans for a $ 5 billion stock buyback, based on what the company said were “strong performance” and “confidence we have in our business going forward.”

— CNBC’s Elizabeth Gurdus and Angelica LaVito as well as Reuters contributed to this report.

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