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(Reuters) – A U.S. bankruptcy judge said on Wednesday he may appoint an independent expert to assess the value of lawsuits alleging Johnson & Johnson’s talc products cause ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michael Kaplan in Trenton, New Jersey, told a court hearing that mediation talks have so far failed to produce a workable framework to settle cancer claims, threatening to engulf the bankruptcy case of J&J subsidiary LTL Management LLC in protracted litigation. .
An independent valuation opinion could be a quicker way out of this impasse than either of the two paths offered by the talc plaintiffs or LTL Management, Kaplan said.
The company has proposed a year-long process to estimate the number and value of talc claims in bankruptcy court, while plaintiffs in the talc lawsuits have asked the court to allow some of the lawsuits to resume outside of bankruptcy court.
J&J, which maintains its baby powder and other talc products are safe, spun off its talc responsibilities to a new subsidiary, LTL Management, and filed for bankruptcy in October, suspending 38,000 lawsuits filed against J&J.
The talc plaintiffs argued that J&J’s decision was a “sham” designed to protect J&J. They appealed Kaplan’s decision to allow the bankruptcy filing to block their suit, and the US Department of Justice’s bankruptcy watchdog backed their position on appeal.
Kaplan will choose a way forward at a July 26 hearing that he sees as a “turning point” in the bankruptcy case.
He then promised to hear both parties, but expressed “serious reservations” about the plaintiffs’ proposal. The judge said he was “troubled” by the possibility that the reopening of certain lawsuits could lead to duplicate litigation in several courts.
LTL’s attorney said he was open to Kaplan’s valuation proposal and remained confident that mediation could still result in a settlement.
“We haven’t lost faith in mediation at all,” said LTL attorney Greg Gordon of Jones Day.
A lawyer for the talc plaintiffs, David Molton of Brown Rudnick, said he was disappointed with the lack of progress in mediation and believed the talks could benefit from a “reset”.
Before filing for bankruptcy, J&J spent nearly $1 billion defending against talc-related lawsuits, and settlements and verdicts cost the company about $3.5 billion more. A verdict awarded more than $2 billion in judgment to 22 women, court records show.
The case is LTL Management LLC, US Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Jersey, No. 21-30589.
For LTL: Greg Gordon of Jones Day
For the Talc Applicants Committee: David Molton of Brown Rudnick; Melanie Cyganowski from Otterbourg; Genova Burns’ Daniel Stolz; Brian Glasser of Bailey & Glasser; Lenard Parkins of Parkins & Rubio; and Jonathan Massey of Massey & Gail
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