Johnson & Johnson has taken some costly beatings in court this year. And it could get worse.
Just last week, a jury ordered J&J to pay $8 billion for wrongfully pushing doctors to prescribe the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal. While the amount the company pays for the verdict will probably be significantly less, it came on the heels of billions more in 2019 court losses or settlements from damage claims involving baby powder, opioid painkillers and artificial hips.
The health-care giant still faces at least 100,000 lawsuits alleging injuries from those products and others, including vaginal-mesh devices and the diabetes drug Invokana, company filings to regulators show. Analysts say the cost of resolving those cases may reach $20 billion, and J&J’s handling of the various litigations is likely to spark questions when the company reports results on Tuesday.
Shares of J&J are down 12% from a peak, partly because there’s no end in sight for liability costs. Concern over litigation will be “an overhang on the shares for the foreseeable future," with the company already discounted in value to reflect at least $20 billion of exposure, Chris Schott, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co., said in a report.
“J&J has been riding the litigation bronco over the past couple of years, and the ride is far from over," Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who teaches about product liability. “I’m sure investors are tired of it."
J&J shares were down 0.3% to $130.97 at 10:42 a.m. in New York.
Some critics say the company’s legal woes suggest it valued profit above all else.
“J&J used to be the gold standard of ethical behavior in the pharmaceutical industry," said Michael Santoro, a business ethics professor at California’s Santa Clara University. “They just seem incapable of properly managing their ethical behavior at this point. They’ve lost their way."
J&J Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alex Gorsky said on the company’s website that its code of business conduct calls for the highest standards of behavior to ensure customers trust its products. J&J has a long history of high ethical business practices, he said.
To be sure, battling in court has become routine for many drugmakers, and J&J is no exception. The New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company said it has an expansive legal strategy that carefully evaluates all claims to determine when to settle and when to fight.
“We’re operating within a very litigious environment, and we must at times be willing to go to trial when the science, facts and law are on our side," Ernie Knewitz, a J&J spokesman, said in an emailed statement. “We also have to remain open to resolving cases through settlement when and where that’s appropriate to do. We have a proven track record of being able to successfully and appropriately manage this balance."