By Brendan Pierson and Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson must pay $8 billion in punitive damages to a man who previously 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 said on Tuesday.
The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas jury’s verdict in favor of Nicholas Murray came in the first case in which a Pennsylvania jury had been able to consider awarding punitive damages in one of thousands of Risperdal cases pending in the state.
“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,” Murray’s lawyers, Tom Kline and Jason Itkin, said in a joint statement. “Johnson & Johnson and (subsidiary) Janssen chose billions over children.”
J&J said the award was “grossly disproportionate with the initial compensatory award in this case, and the company is confident it will be overturned.” It added 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 said he expects the punitive damages to be lowered on appeal, citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision which found that “few awards exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages, to a significant degree, will satisfy due process.”
Tobias said the verdict was about sending a message.
“A jury, if it’s outrageous enough conduct, will award a big number and let the lawyers and judges work it out,” he said.
Tobias added that the verdict could be a sign that J&J will face more large damages awards in other Risperdal cases.
“The kind of evidence in this trial may persuade another jury or judge to do something similar,” he said.
Murray, like other male plaintiffs in the mass tort litigation over Risperdal, alleges that he developed breasts after being prescribed the medicine when he was a minor. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug in late 1993 for treating schizophrenia and episodes of bipolar mania in adults.
Plaintiffs claim that J&J failed to warn 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, alleged that he developed breasts after his doctors began prescribing him Risperdal off-label in 2003 after a psychologist diagnosed him with autism spectrum disorder. Doctors are allowed to prescribe medicines as they see fit, while companies are only allowed 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 warn of the risk of gynecomastia. A state appeals court upheld the verdict in February 2018 but reduced it to $680,000.
Plaintiffs in the mass tort litigation had been barred from seeking punitive damages since 2014, when a state court judge ruled 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 cleared the way for punitive damages awards, holding that the law of each plaintiff’s state should instead apply.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York and Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman)