(Bloomberg) -- If Johnson & Johnson won’t put a warning on its baby powder that it may be tainted with asbestos, some jurors were ready to do it for them.
A California jury weighing J&J’s punishment over its handling of its iconic baby powder asked a judge May 24 if they could force the company to warn consumers that its Johnson’s Baby Powder could be contaminated with asbestos, according to the law firm that won the case against the health-care giant.
After the judge said no, the jury awarded $4 million in punitive damages Thursday to Joanne Anderson, a 68-year-old woman who claimed her deadly cancer was caused by asbestos in J&J’s baby powder. A day earlier the jury had awarded $21.7 million to Anderson, finding J&J 67 percent responsible for her mesothelioma.
J&J has steadfastly maintained that its baby powder has never contained asbestos and rejected calls to put a warning on its white bottles known the world over. The company has also rejected any connection between its talc products and ovarian cancer. Carol Goodrich, a spokeswoman for J&J, didn’t immediately comment on the juror question.
J&J plans to appeal the verdict.
A court wouldn’t have the power to order a company to add or change warnings on its products, said David Logan, law professor at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. “It’s not a remedy that can be ordered in a damages action,’’ he said.
The fact that the jury asked the question at all “is a bad sign for J&J,’’ added law professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond in Virginia. “That should make J&J wake up if that’s the way juries are looking at these cases.’’
J&J is facing thousands of lawsuits alleging its talc products are connected to cancer, primarily ovarian, but with a growing number claiming asbestos-related mesothelioma. The suits center on the claim that the company failed to warn of risks.
The jury query was highlighted in the press release issued by Anderson’s lawyers at Simon Greenstone Panatier. “The question shows that the jury understood that J&J knew about the danger of asbestos in their baby powder and chose to do nothing,’’ David Greenstone, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said Thursday in an email.
After the verdict, jurors outside the courtroom cited a 1969 company document related to “project code 101,” in which J&J doctors warned of the risk of asbestos in talc, and possible litigation in the future.
One juror who asked not to be identified said the evidence showed that J&J knew it had a problem in 1969 and kept marketing its baby powder. He said he advocated for a bigger damages award.
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