J&J CEO Must Face Questioning Over Baby Powder Statements

(Bloomberg) -- Alex Gorsky defended the safety of Johnson & Johnson baby powder just days after a jury hit the company he heads with a $4.69 billion asbestos verdict. Now, J&J’s chief executive officer will have to defend his claims to a veteran plaintiffs’ lawyer.

A Missouri judge ordered Gorsky to submit to questioning by lawyer Mark Lanier about the basis for his public statements that the iconic talc-based powder is free of asbestos and doesn’t pose a cancer threat. On a call with analysts July 17, Gorsky said J&J officials are “confident that our products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer.”

Lanier wants to find out what Gorsky knows about “the science of talc safety” and how the company decided to market the product, according to the Oct. 29 order, which was made public Wednesday. He plans to use the information in a future trial over the safety of the product. Lanier was one of the lawyers who persuaded the St. Louis jury to hand down the sixth-largest product-defect verdict in U.S. history on July 12 in favor of 22 women.

Bart Williams, a lawyer for J&J, said the request was intended as nothing more than harassment of the company’s top executive.

“Mr. Gorsky has no unique information about the testing or manufacturing of baby powder,” Williams said in an interview. “All the information he has is relayed to him by others in the company.”

J&J faces another multi-plaintiff case is St. Louis in January focused on whether baby powder causes cancer, according to court filings. Lanier is slated to try another talc case in that same court in April.

The case is Young v. Johnson & Johnson, 15522-CC09728-02, Division No. 10, Missouri Circuit Court, Twenty Second Judicial Circuit (St. Louis).

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.