A jury in Philadelphia said Tuesday that Johnson & Johnson must pay $8 billion in punitive damages to a man who previously won $680,000 over his claims that the New Brunswick-based company failed to warn young men using its antipsychotic drug Risperdal they could grow breasts.
Reuters reported The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas jury’s verdict in favor of Nicholas Murray came in the first case in which a Pennsylvania jury was 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.”
According to Reuters, 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.
Plaintiffs claim 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, Reuters reported.
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, according to Reuters.
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.