A few years ago, the Internet was (briefly) afire with a debate over whether Johnson & Johnson’s promise of “No more tears” on its shampoo referred to the act of crying or the act of ripping something. Multiple websites scoured old commercials, paperwork, and ads to see which version was the true version. In the end, it did not matter. Johnson & Johnson had run ads claiming both statements were true: their products would not sting eyes and they would help detangle hair easily. Consumers were free to believe whichever version they wanted.
The short-lived fervor over the shampoo debate may have faded, but it encapsulates a much larger, and far longer lingering, problem for Johnson & Johnson – the brand which sought consumers’ trust with every ad turned out to be completely untrustworthy. Over the past 10 years, J&J products have caused more harm than good. Their talcum powder products were linked to ovarian cancer. Their vaginal mesh caused pain and infections. Their hip and knee replacements had to be removed because of erosion. Their painkillers caused deadly addictions. Their over-the-counter drugs have been recalled time and time again.
And now, there are three more dangerous news stories about J&J: their sunscreens and their hair care products may contain cancer-causing agents, and in rare cases, their vaccine may increase the risk of developing a rare nerve condition called Guillain Barre syndrome.
The evidence is clear and abundant. It is time to say “Goodbye” to Johnson & Johnson.
Why do so many dangerous J&J products make it to market?
The answer to this question is complicated, especially for prescription drugs and medical devices. Anything which has to be approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) goes through a pre-market approval process (PMA). Some devices take a few months to clear, but others can take years and cost millions of dollars. To avoid this time and money, manufacturers submit their devices through the 510(k) premarket submission, which allows a product that is “substantially equivalent” to an existing product on the market to avoid PMA. The 501(k) submission process is how we ended up with dangerous transvaginal mesh products (based on earlier hernia mesh devices) and cobalt-leaking knee replacements (based on earlier knee replacement designs). The good news is that if people suffer harm from one of these drugs or devices, FDA can issue a recall.
For cosmetic products, like talcum powder or shampoo, the process is different. Per FDA, “The law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, to have FDA approval before they go on the market, but there are laws and regulations that apply to cosmetics on the market in interstate commerce.” What that means is FDA is limited in how much help it can offer before a cosmetic product gets on the shelves. Once it is on the market, though, FDA has greater authority to pursue actions against the manufacturers if:
- The manufacturer mislabeled the product, such as omitting ingredients or making unfounded claims.
- The product is found to be unsafe under everyday use.
- An ingredient in the product causes the product to be “adulterated or misbranded under the laws that FDA enforces.”
What the FDA cannot do is force a recall for a cosmetic product. They can request a recall from a manufacturer, but they cannot make a manufacturer pull its product from shelves. As such, even when the FDA discovers that a product is dangerous, it cannot get that product out of stores. It can only act through the Department of Justice, such as seeking an order that would stop a company from producing a product or asking the DOJ to seize the products.
Talcum powder, shampoo, sunscreen: these are all considered cosmetics. The FDA’s hands are largely tied due to constraints on cosmetic products.
Is Johnson & Johnson ever held accountable for their dangerous products?
Sometimes, yes – they are. Most recently, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear J&J’s appeal of a $2.12 billion ruling on behalf of women who alleged their ovarian cancer was linked to talc products. Mere weeks later, the company agreed to a $230 million settlement with New York over its opioids, and agreed to stop selling the painkillers are part of that settlement.
But unlike smaller companies that can be ruined by one or two recalls – think of Takata, the now-bankrupt company that produced the deadly and defective airbags in Hondas – J&J is a global powerhouse. They manufacture some of the largest-selling medical and healthcare-related products in the world, and are worth close to half a trillion dollars even after the payouts. They also have hundreds of subsidiaries, which means they manage to escape a lot of bad press because many of these products are created by “other” companies. For example, DePuy Synthes had to recall its Attune knee replacements in 2019, but people did not connect that to Johnson & Johnson, even though DePuy is a J&J subsidiary.
The pharmaceutical giant can keep chugging along, manufacturing dangerous devices, drugs, and skin care products without the general public connecting them to each report or recall.
I was injured while using a Johnson & Johnson product. What can I do?
If you sustained an injury or developed an illness as a result of using a Johnson & Johnson product, or from a medical device manufactured by a J&J subsidiary, you should first report that experience to the FDA. The only way the FDA can investigate a product is if there are injuries or illnesses associated with it, so it is important to report all adverse effects to them.
You can also make a claim for damages, either by filing an individual lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson (which could be removed to a centralized location under multi-district litigation rules if many cases are filed), or by joining a class and filing a class action lawsuit instead. This may be the more effective tool if you are one of a group of people who suffered a negative effect from a J&J product, but your damages are considered “too small” to seek relief in an individual lawsuit. We can explain further what your best options are during a free consultation with one of our attorneys.
McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC has substantial experience work with individuals and classes, and taking on pharmaceutical giants like Johnson & Johnson. We have obtained millions of dollars in jury verdicts and settlements on behalf of the injured in South Carolina and throughout the country. If you sustained an injury from a Johnson & Johnson product, we are here to help. Please call us at 803-327-7800 or fill out our contact form. We maintain offices throughout South Carolina for your convenience.
Randy is the former President of the South Carolina Association for Justice. He has been certified by the American Board of Professional Liability as a specialist in Medical Malpractice Law which is recognized by the South Carolina Bar. Randy has also been awarded the distinction of being a “Super Lawyer” 10 times in the last decade. He has over 25 years of experience helping injured people fight back against corporations, hospitals and wrong-doers.
Read more about S. Randall Hood