Jury zings Johnson & Johnson with $8-billion punitive damage award

| Oct 10, 2019 | Pharmaceutical Liability |

The anti-psychotic drug Risperdal has been available since 1993. It is FDA-approved for treating schizophrenia and episodes of mania in bipolar patients. However, many doctors have prescribed it off-label to treat a variety of psychiatric conditions.

Risperdal can cause gynecomastia, or the development of breasts in men. According to thousands of lawsuits, Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals failed to warn patients that taking Risperdal could cause them to grow breasts.

If you have taken Risperdal, you will be interested to know that juries are finding J&J/Janssen liable for failing to warn patients of the gynecomastia risk. In 2015, a Pennsylvania jury awarded one man $1.75 million to compensate him for having developed breasts after being prescribed Risperdal. That award was reduced on appeal to $680,000, but it still represents a substantial compensatory award.

There was some question of whether J&J and Janssen should be ordered to pay punitive damages, which are meant to punish wrongdoing. In 2014, a New Jersey judge who was hearing multiple Risperdal cases held that the law of New Jersey should apply to all such cases. That was unfortunate for the plaintiffs, as New Jersey law does not authorize punitive damages.

Last year, however, a Pennsylvania Superior Court judge challenged that ruling, holding that the law to be used in these cases should be the law of each plaintiff’s home state. Pennsylvania law does allow punitive damages. The Pennsylvania man’s case was sent back to court for a determination of whether punitive damages should be ordered.

In an apparent effort to send a strong message, the jury not only found that punitive damages were appropriate but also awarded a stunning $8 billion. The 2015 jury had found that J&J and Janssen had been negligent in failing to warn patients of the risk of gynecomastia, and this jury appeared to find their behavior outrageous.

“This jury, as have other juries in other litigations, once again imposed punitive damages on a corporation that valued profits over safety and profits over patients,” said the man’s lawyers in a statement. “Johnson & Johnson and (subsidiary) Janssen chose billions over children.”

Johnson & Johnson hopes to get the award reduced on appeal

Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal the punitive damages award. In a statement, J&J called the award “grossly disproportionate” to even the original $1.75 million awarded in compensatory damages.

There is a good chance the award will indeed be reduced. This is because punitive damage awards that vastly exceed the associated compensatory damages may violate the defendants’ due process rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “awards exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages” would generally be considered excessive.

Still, the jury’s message has been sent. They found J&J’s and Janssen’s failure to warn patients of the gynecomastia risk to be so shocking that they ought to be forced to pay $8 billion in a single case – and there are thousands of Risperdal cases moving through the courts.

Even if this punitive damage award is substantially reduced, J&J and Janssen could end up paying millions or even billions of dollars in punitive damages overall.

If you are one of the many people who experienced unexpected negative side-effects after taking Risperdal, you should contact an attorney. Drug makers have a duty to warn patients about any harms they might experience from the medications they sell.