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Risperdal Defense Verdict Reversed, Judges Call For New Trial On Causation, Damages

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A Pennsylvania appellate court has overturned a defense verdict returned in a product liability lawsuit filed against Johnson & Johnson over failure to warn that boys and young men may develop breast growth from Risperdal, calling for a new trial and taking away the only win the drug maker has been able to obtain in a series of recent “bellwether” cases.

Johnson & Johnson faces more than 5,500 Risperdal lawsuits pending in the Philadelphia state court system, each raising similar allegations that boys can suffer a condition known as gynecomastia after taking the controversial antipsychotic medication, typically resulting in the need for breast removal surgery.

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Superior Court determined that the trial judge erred in a case that ended in a defense verdict in March 2015, indicating that it was improper for Court of Common Pleas Judge Victor DiNubile Jr. to allow testimony from a physician’s assistant who indicated that the plaintiff’s breast growth could have been caused solely by weight gain.

In the decision, the appeals court overturned the defense verdict and ordered a new trial. However, the new trial will only focus on causation and damages.

Lawsuits over the Risperdal gynecomastia problems have been pending for several years, but as more families learn that the drug may have caused breast growth side effects experienced by boys nationwide, additional cases continue to be filed.

While there are also cases pending in various other state courts, most of the litigation is centralized in Philadelphia, where the state court litigation is being handled as part of a mass tort proceeding, since each claim raises similar questions or fact and law.

A series of representative cases have been set for early trial dates, known as “bellwether” cases, since they are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout the litigation. Other than this one defense win for Johnson & Johnson, several different juries have returned massive verdicts for boys and young men left with breast growth, indicating that the drug maker withheld information from families and the medical community.

In July 2016, the family of a five year old Tennessee boy was awarded $70 million in damages, with other prior verdicts including $500,000 in December 2015, $1.75 million in November 2015 and $2.5 million in February 2015. Two other cases, one in late 2016 and one in April of this year, were dismissed. The recently overturned defense verdict was the only case where Johnson & Johnson was successful in defending a claim before before a jury.

While the drug maker has reached some Risperdal gynecomastia settlements in select cases, often on the even of bellwether trials, there have not been any global deals that would resolve large numbers of cases, or provide compensation for individuals who have experienced male breast growth after using Risperdal.

As families and former users of the medication continue to learn about the potential link between Risperdal and breast growth they may have experienced since using the medication, it is likely the size of the litigation will continue to grow over the coming months and years.

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