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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to consider an appeal that may impact a number of Risperdal lawsuits filed over abnormal breast growth among young men and boys who used the antipsychotic medication, reviewing when the statute of limitations began to run on claims against the drug makers.
There are currently nearly 7,000 product liability lawsuits over Risperdal pending against Johnson & Johnson in the Pennsylvania state court system, each involving similar allegations that consumers, parents and the medical community were not adequately warned that young boys may develop a medical condition known as gynecomastia, which results in the development of full breasts among males.
At issue are two lawsuits, filed by Jonathan Saksek and Joshua Winter, who both claim that the side effects of Risperdal caused gynecomastia. However, their lawsuits were previously dismissed, after the trial court found that they waited too long to file their claims and that the cases were barred by the statute of limitations.
On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the drug makers’ efforts to conceal the link between Risperdal and gynecomastia should toll the running of the statute of limitations, maintaining that there was no reasonable way they could have known the drug caused their unnatural breast growth within the two year statute of limitations period.
Winters was 17 years old when he was prescribed Risperdal in 1997, and Saksek was 11 years old when he was prescribed the drug in 1998. According to court filings, the plaintiffs were each aware that they were suffering unexplained weight gain and breast growth by the end of 1998 and 2002, respectively. However, they claim that they did not discover that Risperdal may be the cause of their injuries until they saw television advertisements in 2013, regarding similar problems experienced by other individuals.
The drug makers have argued that the plaintiffs knew or should have known about the potential problems much sooner. As early as 2003, medical journals published reports on the link between Risperdal and gynecomastia, and the FDA required new warning label information in October 2006.
Although that was long after both plaintiffs had stopped using the drug, an intermediate appeals court found that the two year statute of limitations on their claims began by October 2006, and upheld the dismissal of the cases late last year.
“Appellants cannot hope to establish that they acted with reasonable diligence, when they admit that they failed to act at all,” wrote judges with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in a decision published in November 2017. “Their breasts were there, and had been there, for years. And then, in October 2006, the label on Risperdal changed, expressly linking usage of the drug to gynecomastia. Their breasts were clearly not temporary by 2006. Accordingly, by that date, ‘reasonable minds would not differ in finding that’ Appellants knew, or should have known, of their injuries and the cause of those injuries by this point.”
The plaintiffs filed an appeal of this ruling to the state Supreme Court, which issued an order (PDF) on July 5, agreeing to consider the appeal.
An opinion from the highest court of appeals in the state may impact other Risperdal cases involving disputes over when the plaintiffs knew or should have discovered that their breast growth was caused by use of the drug as a minor or young man.
Risperdal Gynecomastia Side Effects
Gynecomastia is a medical condition associated with the abnormal development of breasts among males. The condition is typically associated with disease or metabolic disorders, but it is also known to occur as a side effect of certain medications.
Since other side effects of Risperdal are known cause weight gain, many doctors have failed to immediately diagnose gynecomastia promptly after the symptoms arise. However, courts have found that a diagnosis is not necessary for an individual to recognize that they have an actual injury.
While the drug makers have reached Risperdal settlements in some cases involving boys diagnosed with gynecomastia, they continue to fight thousands of claims, most of which are pending in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.