Judge appoints Kenneth Feinberg to evaluate J&J cancer claims in bankruptcy

Bottles of Johnson's baby powder are displayed in a store in New York
Bottles of Johnson's baby powder are displayed in a store in New York City, U.S. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
  • Feinberg will provide an independent estimation of the number and value of current and future cancer claims
  • Judge did not grant plaintiffs' request to allow some cancer trials to proceed outside of bankruptcy court

(Reuters) - A U.S. bankruptcy judge said on Thursday that he has selected an independent expert to assess the value of about 38,000 lawsuits alleging that Johnson & Johnson's talc products caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma, in an effort to break an impasse in the bankruptcy of a J&J subsidiary.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michael Kaplan in Trenton, New Jersey selected well-known mediator Kenneth Feinberg to perform an initial estimation of the number and value of current and future cancer claims.

J&J spun off subsidiary LTL Management in October, assigned its talc claims to it and immediately placed it into bankruptcy, pausing the pending lawsuits.

Kaplan on Thursday said LTL and the official committee representing cancer plaintiffs had presented him with two "very different paths forward." The plaintiffs had asked the judge to allow some trials to move forward outside of bankruptcy court, while LTL proposed a year-long procedure to estimate the value of claims in bankruptcy court.

Both sides had attacked the other's proposals as a "road to nowhere," and Kaplan said on Thursday his path would avoid the delays and controversies that those proposals would bring.

A J&J representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment. J&J has denied the talc plaintiffs' allegations, saying decades of scientific testing and regulatory approvals have shown its talc to be safe.

Clayton Thompson, an attorney who represents plaintiffs with mesothelioma in the case, said he was disappointed that Kaplan continued to block lawsuits against J&J, which is not itself bankrupt.

The talc plaintiffs have argued LTL's bankruptcy is an abuse of the Chapter 11 system. Kaplan rejected their argument that it was filed in bad faith in March, and the plaintiffs are appealing to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kaplan did not select a firm due date for Feinberg's initial report, but he said it would be complete "before the weather turns cold."

Feinberg oversaw a victims compensation fund related to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and served as a mediator in settlement talks in the federal litigation over allegations that Bayer AG’s Roundup weedkiller caused cancer, among other cases. Kaplan said Feinberg will not serve as a mediator in the LTL case, limiting his role to claims estimation.

Before the bankruptcy filing, the company faced costs from $3.5 billion in verdicts and settlements, including one in which 22 women were awarded a judgment of more than $2 billion, according to bankruptcy court records.

The case is LTL Management LLC, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Jersey, No. 21-30589.

For the LTL: Greg Gordon of Jones Day

For Talc Claimants Committee I: David Molton of Brown Rudnick, Melanie Cyganowski of Otterbourg, Daniel Stolz of Genova Burns, Brian Glasser of Bailey & Glasser, Lenard Parkins of Parkins & Rubio and Jonathan Massey of Massey & Gail

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