With its case count climbing, Johnson & Johnson faces major test in talc defense

After experiencing mixed results in defense of its storied Johnson's Baby Powder brand, Johnson & Johnson faces its biggest legal test yet for the product.

Opening statements begin Wednesday in a trial consolidating the claims of 22 plaintiffs—six of whom are deceased—who say their routine use led to ovarian cancer. J&J denies the claims.

The women say J&J has known about the alleged link to cancer for decades, and that the company has long known about potential asbestos contamination in its product. Plaintiffs also say J&J worked with lobbyists to suppress evidence of a link to cancer rather than warn consumers. The trial is expected to run through mid-July. 

A J&J representative said "Johnson’s Baby Powder does not contain asbestos or cause ovarian cancer and we will continue to defend the safety of our product."

It's the latest talc trial to kick off in St. Louis, where J&J has suffered some previous defeats in cases over its storied brand. Juries in the city have already ordered the company to pay verdicts of $55 million, $70 million and $110 million, and J&J has pledged to appeal in each instance. 

RELATED: Johnson & Johnson suffers another cancer-suit loss as talc case count climbs above 9,000 

After other losses—one in St. Louis—Johnson & Johnson has had some success in appeals. The company has won reversals of a $417 million Los Angeles talc verdict and another $72 million verdict handed down by a St. Louis jury. The company has also won ovarian cancer talc cases in New Jersey and St. Louis. 

Recently, some plaintiffs have taken claims of a link between the product and mesothelioma to trial, with some success. This year, plaintiffs in New Jersey and Los Angeles won verdicts of $117 million and $25.75 million, respectively, and J&J said it will appeal. The company previously won a mesothelioma lawsuit in Los Angeles, and another late last month ended in a mistrial in South Carolina. 

As of J&J's most recent quarterly filing with the SEC, the company faces about 9,100 lawsuits alleging harm from talc powder use.

Editor's note: This story was updated with a statement from J&J.