Johnson & Johnson has been slapped with an $8 billion punitive damages verdict in the case of a Pennsylvania man suing over the side effects of the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal.
Nicholas Murray, 26, is among more than 10,000 people suing Johnson & Johnson and its Janssen Pharmaceutical subsidiary over the drug, which in Murray’s case led to him growing breasts.
Murray had previously won $680,000 in compensatory damages in the case, according to Reuters.
The verdict was the first punitive damage award in the case, Thomas R. Kline, an attorney with Murray’s legal team, told The New York Times.
“This jury resoundingly told Johnson & Johnson that its actions were deliberate and malicious,” Kline and fellow attorney Jason Itkin said in a statement.
“The conduct that the jury saw in the courtroom was clear and convincing that J&J disregarded the safety of the most vulnerable of children. This is an important moment, not only for this litigation, but for J&J, which is a company that has lost its way,” the lawyers said.
“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,” their statement said. “Johnson & Johnson and Janssen chose billions over children.”
The company saw things differently.
“The jury did not hear evidence as to how the label for Risperdal clearly and appropriately outlined the risks associated with the medicine, or the benefits Risperdal provides to patients with serious mental illness,” the company’s statement read.
“Further, the plaintiff’s attorneys failed to present any evidence that the plaintiff was actually harmed by the alleged conduct.”
The company plans to appeal the award.
Murray said he developed breasts in 2003 after being given the drug for autism spectrum disorder.
The drug was approved in 1993 to treat schizophrenia.
The crux of the lawsuit was whether the company promoted the drug for uses that were not approved, ignoring potential risks and side effects.
Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law said in the end, Murray will likely not get $8 billion, but that does not mean Johnson & Johnson will not be paying out large sums of money in the future.
Tobias said the $8 billion award is well outside the norm, but believes the jurors who determined it wanted to send 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 told Reuters.
That could spell trouble if the award becomes a precedent for other lawsuits, Tobias said.
“The kind of evidence in this trial may persuade another jury or judge to do something similar,” he said.
Lawsuits over the drug date back years.
The company, in fact, agreed to pay more than $2 billion in fines in 2013.
But the floodgates could really open after this latest verdict.
In 2014, a New Jersey state court ruled that New Jersey law, which does not allow for punitive damages, should cover all lawsuits, regardless of where those suing live.
In 2018, however, a Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling said each suit should be bound by the laws in the plaintiff’s home state.