Johnson & Johnson set to appeal $8-billion damages award to plaintiff in Risperdal lawsuit

Johnson & Johnson vowed to overturn a jury verdict that awarded $8 billion in punitive damages to a plaintiff who claimed that the company downplayed risks that the antipsychotic Risperdal (risperidone) could lead to gynecomastia. The plaintiff had already been awarded compensatory damages of $680,000.

Commenting on the latest decision made by the jury in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Johnson & Johnson said "this award is grossly disproportionate with the initial compensatory award in this case… and is a clear violation of due process." The drugmaker also contested that it was "precluded from presenting a meaningful defence due to the court's exclusion of key evidence," which included information on Risperdal's label related to its risks. Johnson & Johnson added "we will be immediately moving to set aside this excessive and unfounded verdict."

Thomas Kline, a lawyer who is part of a legal team representing the plaintiff and more than 10,000 people in similar lawsuits related to Risperdal, noted that the verdict was the first to award punitive damages. The plaintiff sued Johnson & Johnson in 2013, claiming that he developed breasts after starting to use Risperdal in 2003 to treat symptoms of autism.

"This jury resoundingly told Johnson & Johnson that its actions were deliberate and malicious," the plaintiff's lawyers said. A jury had initially awarded the plaintiff $1.75 million in compensatory damages in 2015, although this was later reduced. Meanwhile, a judge had initially barred punitive damages in the case, but that was overturned on appeal in 2018.

Commenting on the news, Carl Tobias, from the University of Richmond School of Law, said he expects the punitive damages to be lowered on appeal, citing a US Supreme Court decision that found that "few awards exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages, to a significant degree, will satisfy due process." However, Tobias warned that the verdict could mean that Johnson & Johnson will face more large damages awards in other cases over the drug.

Risperdal was first approved by the FDA in the 1990s for the treatment of adults with schizophrenia, with the drug gaining clearance in 2006 for use in children to treat irritability associated with autism. In 2013, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay more than $2.2 billion to settle investigations by the US Department of Justice into marketing practices for Risperdal and two other drugs, including promotion for uses not approved by the FDA and the payment of kickbacks to physicians.

Last year, Risperdal generated sales of $737 million.

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