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Special Report-Inside J&J’s secret plan to cap litigation payouts to



© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A bottle of Johnson and Johnson Baby Powder is seen in a photo illustration taken in New York, February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/Illustration/File Photo


By Mike Spector and Dan Levine

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:) created a plan last year to limit the financial bleeding from billions of dollars in jury awards to plaintiffs who alleged the company’s Baby Powder and other talc products caused deadly cancers. The healthcare and consumer-goods giant assigned more than 30 staffers to “Project Plato.” In a memo on the project in July, a company lawyer warned the team: Tell no one, not even your spouse.

“It is critical that any activities related to Project Plato, including the mere fact the project exists, be kept in strict confidence,” Chris Andrew, a J&J lawyer, wrote in an internal memo reviewed by Reuters.

The covert team would go on to evaluate a strategy to shift all the liability from about 38,000 pending talc cases onto a newly created subsidiary, which would immediately declare bankruptcy. The goal, as a lawyer for the subsidiary said in a court filing: To halt all the litigation and transfer the cases to bankruptcy court, where plaintiffs would compete for compensation from a limited pool of money.

In court and in public statements last July, Johnson & Johnson said it intended to keep fighting the allegations that its products were unsafe in trial courts. The company was actively defending itself in talc trials, including one that would result in a $27 million jury award that could be nullified by the bankruptcy maneuver. The plaintiff in that case now may have to instead seek compensation through a bankruptcy process.

Privately, J&J took concrete steps starting as early as April to consider and plan the bankruptcy maneuver, according to internal company documents, depositions and other court records reviewed by Reuters. The strategy seeks to ensure the pending cases never reach a jury and instead be handled in a bankruptcy court.

The documents provide the most detailed account to date of how the New Jersey-based conglomerate strategized to limit compensation to tens of thousands of talc plaintiffs.

Reuters exclusively reported the broad outlines of the bankruptcy strategy being explored by J&J in July. The company went ahead with the plan in October, offloading responsibility for the cases to the new subsidiary, which then filed for bankruptcy. Before the 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.

Now, J&J proposes to give the subsidiary in bankruptcy $2 billion to put into a trust to compensate all 38,000 current plaintiffs, as well as all future claimants. J&J has said in court filings and in public statements that the subsidiary, LTL Management LLC, could also tap a stream of royalty revenues valued at more than…


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