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Johnson & Johnson’s Long History of Lawsuits: Product Defects, Misleading Advertising, and Fatal Outcomes

Steven Li, MD
Steven Li is a medical professional with a passion for lifelong learning and spreading truth to the world. He specializes in the fields of health and science.
Published: June 10, 2021
Johnson and Johnson has a long history of lawsuits from aggrieved customers.
Johnson and Johnson has a long history of lawsuits from aggrieved customers. (Image: Wikimedia Commons / CC0 1.0)

Johnson & Johnson (J&J), a supplier of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines in the United States, has a history of serial criminal fraud. As with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the J&J vaccine has been granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but not FDA approval.

J&J, founded in 1886, has operations in 60 nations around the world and employs 135,000 people. In 2020, it generated revenues in excess of 82.6 billion dollars. However, the company has been involved in several lawsuits related to defective products, dishonest marketing, and other issues.

In 1995, J&J subsidiary Ortho Pharmaceutical Corporation was fined 7.5 million dollars for shredding documents in an attempt to thwart a federal investigation. At the time, authorities were investigating whether the company had illegally marketed its Retin-A acne cream as a wrinkle remover. Ortho later confessed to instructing its employees to shred the documents.

J&J was forced to pay an undisclosed amount in 1996 for making false claims about the failure rate of its condoms. Then, in 2001, the company was fined 860 million dollars for misleading customers to throw away disposable contact lenses prematurely. The lawsuit, filed by multiple customers and later combined into a class action suit, alleged that the disposable lenses could be worn for up to two weeks despite J&J’s recommendation to use them only once.

In 2004, J&J fined 90 million dollars after patients claimed that the company’s Propulsid drug for heartburn was linked to heart problems. Almost 4,000 plaintiffs were included in the settlement, with an estimated 300 deaths from consuming the medicine. The product was pulled from the U.S. market in July 2000, and banned in India and the Philippines in 2011.

In 2010, two J&J subsidiaries, Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical LLC, agreed to pay 81 million dollars in damages from the illegal promotion of epilepsy drug Topamax. The drug was approved by the FDA for treating partial-onset seizures, but Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical was caught promoting the drug for off-label psychiatric uses.

“Through a practice known as the ‘Doctor-for-a-Day’ program… Ortho-McNeil hired outside physicians to join sales representatives in their visits to the offices of health care providers and to speak at meetings and dinners about prescribing Topamax for unapproved uses and doses,” said a Department of Justice (DoJ) press release.

In 2013, J&J and its subsidiaries were fined over 2.2 billion dollars to resolve civil and criminal liabilities for the company’s promotion of Risperdal, Invega, and Natrecor for uses not approved by the FDA.

Risperdal was only approved for the treatment of schizophrenia, but the company promoted its use in treating psychotic symptoms and associated behavioral disturbances among elderly patients who were not suffering from schizophrenia. The DoJ called the resolution “one of the largest health care fraud settlements in U.S. history.”

Links to cancer

In 2016, the multinational corporation was asked to pay 417 million dollars to a woman who said that she had developed ovarian cancer due to using products like Johnson’s Baby Powder. Four years later, a Missouri appeals court ordered J&J to pay 2.1 billion dollars to several women alleging that prolonged use of the company’s baby powder, which contained asbestos, resulted in ovarian cancer. The court ruled that J&J’s conduct was “outrageous because of evil motive or reckless indifference.”

Then, in 2019, the company recalled tens of thousands of bottles of baby powder after the FDA found a sample containing trace amounts of asbestos. J&J revealed that it would be stopping the sale of talcum-based baby powder in the United States and Canada in May 2020, and settled over 1,000 talcum powder lawsuits for 100 million dollars in October 2020.

As of February 2021, the company faced 27,168 talcum powder lawsuits, with victims complaining of ovarian cancer and mesotheliomas, a type of cancer occurring in the tissue layer covering internal organs. J&J continues to sell its baby powder in the UK, India, France, the Philippines, and other countries. 

The company’s anticoagulation medication Xarelto has generated 13,511 lawsuits, with reported injuries including wound leaks, blood clots, deadly bleeding events, and infections.

Vaccine adverse events

With regard to the company’s COVID-19 vaccine, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated in May that the jab was responsible for 28 blood clots. A woman from Oregon reported developing blood clots in her brain, stomach, throat, and lungs after being inoculated, reported KGW8

In Michigan, a 35-year-old woman died after receiving the vaccine. The family stated that she had developed complications from the jab. According to the CDC, the J&J one-shot vaccine “was 66.3% effective in clinical trials (efficacy) at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 illness in people who had no evidence of prior infection.”

However, the CDC and FDA’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) database contains reports through May 28, 2021 with 377 deaths, 1,925 hospitalizations, 87 cases of anaphylaxis, 139 cases of Bell’s Palsy, 213 heart attacks, and 1,689 cases of blood clots and strokes after J&J vaccine administration.

With reporting by Arvind Datta.