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Federal judge halts most talc lawsuits against J&J, stops trials


(Reuters) — A U.S. judge Thursday halted most of the tens of thousands of lawsuits alleging Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and other talc products caused cancer and stopped any trials as part of a company subsidiary’s second attempt to settle cases in bankruptcy proceedings.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michael Kaplan put most of the litigation temporarily on hold during a hearing in Trenton, New Jersey. The decision, for the most part, granted a request from J&J to freeze cases while it attempts to reach a permanent settlement with current plaintiffs that would also set aside money to pay anyone who might sue the company later.

J&J says it has broad support for a proposed $8.9 billion settlement, a contention disputed by lawyers representing thousands of talc claimants who oppose it.

The J&J subsidiary, LTL Management, filed for bankruptcy a second time earlier this month to help finalize the latest deal, despite a federal appeals court’s decision in January that invalidated its first Chapter 11 filing on the grounds the J&J unit was not in financial distress.

“I have more questions than answers,” Judge Kaplan said during Thursday's court hearing, referring to arguments made to him about the second bankruptcy case earlier this week.

The judge halted roughly 38,000 talc lawsuits consolidated in a federal district court in New Jersey. With regard to other cases, he allowed them to proceed so long as no trials commence.

He said he would revisit the ruling in late May.