Johnson & Johnson must pay $8 billion in punitive damages to a man who earlier won $680,000 over his claims that it failed to warn that young men using its antipsychotic drug Risperdal could grow breasts, a Philadelphia jury stated on Tuesday.
The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas jury’s verdict in support of Nicholas Murray came in the first case in which a Pennsylvania jury had been ready to consider awarding punitive damages in one of the thousands of Risperdal cases pending in the state.
This jury, as have other juries in other litigations, once repeatedly imposed punitive damages on a corporation that valued profits over safety and profits over patients, Murray’s lawyers, Tom Kline and Jason Itkin, said in a joint statement. Johnson & Johnson and (subsidiary) Janssen chose billions over children.
Johnson &Johnson said the award was grossly disproportionate with the initial compensatory award in this case, and the company is confident it will be overturned. It replied that the jury in the case had not been allowed to hear evidence of Risperdal’s benefits.
Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law told he expects the punitive damages to be lowered on appeal, citing a US Supreme Court decision which determined that few awards exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages, to a significant degree, will satisfy due process. Tobias told the verdict was about sending a message.
A jury, if it’s outrageous just conduct, will award a big number and let the lawyers and judges operate it out, he said. Tobias continued that the verdict could be a sign that J&J will face more large damages awards in other Risperdal cases.
Murray, like other male plaintiffs in the mass tort litigation over Risperdal, claims that he developed breasts after being prescribed the medicine when he was a minor. The US Food and Drug Administration approved the drug in late 1993 for treating schizophrenia and episodes of bipolar mania in adults.
The plaintiffs claim that J&J failed to inform of the risk of gynecomastia, the development of enlarged breasts in males, associated with Risperdal, which they say the company marketed for unapproved uses with children.
In his lawsuit, Murray, now 26, claimed that he developed breasts after his doctors began prescribing him Risperdal off-label in 2003 after a psychologist diagnosed him with an autism spectrum disorder. Doctors are allowed to prescribe medicines as they see fit, while companies are only permitted to promote their drugs for approved uses.
A jury in 2015 awarded Murray $1.75 million after finding J&J was negligent in failing to inform of the risk of gynecomastia. A state addresses the court upheld the verdict in February 2018 but reduced it to $680,000.
Plaintiffs in the mass tort litigation had been barred from attempting punitive damages since 2014 when a state court judge ordered that the law of New Jersey, which prohibits punitive damages and is J&J’s home state, should be applied globally to the cases.
But a Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling in 2018 removed the way for punitive damages awards, holding that the law of each plaintiff’s state should rather apply.
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