On Tuesday, October 8, 2019, a Philadelphia jury issued an $8 billion punitive damages verdict against Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, for over-marketing the antipsychotic drug Risperdal and downplaying the risk that the drug could lead to breast growth in boys. The verdict in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas was the first to award punitive damages against Janssen Pharmaceuticals.
Nicholas Murray v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
The plaintiff, Nicholas Murray, originally sued the company in 2013 claiming he developed gynecomastia (male breast tissue) after using Risperdal to treat his autism. Risperdal, originally approved to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, is a $3 billion-a-year drug prescribed for seniors with dementia and children with behavioral disorders and autism. The Murray lawsuit accused Janssen Pharmaceuticals of failing to warn doctors about Risperdal’s risks and irresponsibly marketing the drug as a treatment for certain mental health disorders in children.
In March 2016, Murray was awarded $1.75 million in compensatory damages. This award was later pared down to $680,000 due to the Maryland cap on non-economic damages. A judge had initially barred punitive damages in this case by virtue of a global order in a mass tort program established to coordinate now 7,000-strong Risperdal cases pending in Philadelphia County. However, this was overturned on appeal in 2018, setting the stage for Tuesday’s verdict. This case is the first since the Philadelphia Risperdal trials began five years ago that a jury has been allowed to consider punitive damages awards against the company.
Johnson & Johnson’s Response
New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson issued a statement that this verdict is “grossly disproportionate” and a “stark contrast” to the amount the plaintiff was awarded in compensatory damages. The company claims it was precluded from presenting a meaningful defense due to the court’s exclusion of key evidence, and that the prescribing label for Risperdal properly outlined its risks. In its statement, Johnson & Johnson expressed that it will “immediately [move] to set aside this excessive and unfounded verdict,” and it is confident the verdict will ultimately be overturned.
Although it is not unusual for such massive verdicts to be reduced, Johnson & Johnson has long been accused of downplaying certain risks in its marketing of the drug Risperdal. In a corporate filing in June, the company disclosed that there were 13,400 people suing over Risperdal. Only time will tell whether this $8 billion verdict will stick. The next Risperdal trial in Philadelphia, which would give jurors a chance to award both compensatory and punitive damages at once, is slated to kick off in December.