Johnson & Johnson baby powder/Photo: Raihana Asral/Shutterstock.com

A Missouri jury has awarded nearly $4.7 billion in a case where 22 women developed ovarian cancer, they said, as a result of alleged asbestos-laced talcum powder made by Johnson & Johnson.

According to a press release from the firm representing the plaintiffs, the 12-member jury awarded $550 million in compensatory damages, as well as $4.14 billion in punitive damages against the pharmaceutical giant.

The case was tried by Mark Lanier of The Lanier Law Firm. In a press release, he said he hoped the verdict would bring attention to the alleged dangers of asbestos-containing talcum powder.

“For over 40 years, Johnson & Johnson has covered up the evidence of asbestos in their products,”  Lanier said in the release. “We hope this verdict will get the attention of the J&J board and that it will lead them to better inform the medical community and the public about the connection between asbestos, talc, and ovarian cancer. The company should pull talc from the market before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease.”

J&J spokeswoman Carol Goodrich in a statement to the press decried the way the case was tried, saying the decision to consolidate the case with 22 plaintiffs was “fundamentally unfair.”

“Johnson & Johnson is deeply disappointed in the verdict, which was the product of a fundamentally unfair process that allowed plaintiffs to present a group of 22 women, most of whom had no connection to Missouri, in a single case all alleging that they developed ovarian cancer,” Goodrich said in the statement. “The result of the verdict, which awarded the exact same amounts to all plaintiffs irrespective of their individual facts, and differences in applicable law, reflects that the evidence in the case was simply overwhelmed by the prejudice of this type of proceeding.”

She said the company is confident that its products do not contain asbestos, or cause ovarian cancer, and said the company plans to appeal.

This was the first talc case to go to trial in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California, which made it harder for nonresident litigants to pursue claims in multiplaintiff lawsuits. Most of the 22 plaintiffs, all of whom are Lanier’s clients, are not from Missouri. Others are from Texas, California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia. They include a bus driver, a special-education teacher and a cashier at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Six have died from ovarian cancer, and several have spouses with additional claims.

The trial was also the first in the ovarian cancer cases against J&J for Lanier. Along with Lanier, the trial team includes attorneys Lee Cirsch, Rachel Lanier, Dr. Robert Leone, Michael Akselrud, and Monica Cooper of the Lanier Law Firm. Co-counsel Eric D. Holland of the Holland Law Firm in St. Louis, Missouri, was also integrally involved in the trial.

Peter Bicks, a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in New York, represented J&J at trial. During opening statements, he pointed out that none of the doctors who treated the women ever considered baby powder as a cause and that numerous studies and regulatory agencies had found no link. He called Lanier’s claims “scare tactics” that were “like shouting fire in a crowded theater to get people to run—and not get people to think.”

Lanier, however, told jurors that the company “rigged the tests” to avoid conceding that its baby powder contained asbestos.

This article is developing.