After winning the fourth trial in talcum powder litigation, pharmaceutical giant and habitual corporate offender Johnson & Johnson has beefed up its defense team as it goes into Round 5 in its long-running and ongoing legal battle to avoid responsibility for consumer injuries and deaths.

Heading the J&J team is Orlando Richmond, a leading corporate defense attorney with an impressive background that includes three years as a Marine Corps judge advocate. In the plaintiff’s corner, representing ovarian cancer victim Lois Slemp of Virginia is Allen Smith, a member of the Talc Litigation Group whose track record as an advocate for victims of corporate malfeasance is equally impressive. The Slemp case, which has drawn interest across the country, is shaping up to be a battle of titans.

In his opening statement to the jury, Smith pointed out that “This case is about corporate profit and maintaining a corporate image over human life.” The evidence, he said,

“…will show that J&J and its talc supplier, co-defendant Imerys Talc America Inc., knew during those decades that the mineral – contained in J&J’s ‘Shower to Shower’ feminine hygiene product – had a connection to ovarian cancer, but ignored that information for their own profit.”

According to Smith, talc used in the product was contaminated with asbestos and heavy metals – both of which were revealed when Slemp underwent a medical examination.

In his own response to the jury, Richmond said that J&J had been unfairly “dragged into court and attacked [and] vilified” over accusations that it willfully and purposefully sold a product it knew to be dangerous. “It’s a serious thing being accused of a product that causes ovarian cancer,” he added, going on to describe the allegations as “unfounded” and “carefully crafted.”

The talcum powder trial is the fifth one before the Honorable Judge Rex Burlison in the St. Louis District Court. There is a great deal at stake. Although Johnson & Johnson prevailed in the most recent trial, the first three resulted in judgments for the plaintiffs – costing the New Jersey-based corporate giant $200 million, so far. This trial is being watched closely by legal experts across the U.S. to see if J&J can fend off another claim. Significantly, Slemp’s case was chosen as a bellwether case by J&J because of facts in evidence defense counsel believe will sway the jury in favor the company.

Meanwhile, publicity from the large sums awarded to plaintiffs in the first three trials has been fueling significant growth in the number of lawsuits being filed against Johnson & Johnson and their talc supplier, Imerys. In total, there are 100,000 cases pending against J&J, which – in addition to talc – involve a defective hip replacement, the anticoagulant Xarelto, and the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal. Twenty-five hundred of these lawsuits list cancer attributed to the long-term use of Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower as the cause of action.

Depending on the outcome of the Slemp trial, that figure could grow exponentially. As evidence of the company’s malfeasance continues to mount, most legal experts predict that the coming months will prove very costly for Johnson & Johnson.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.