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After a Pennsylvania jury originally determined that Johnson & Johnson should pay $8 billion in punitive damages for failing to warn about the risk of breast growth side effects among young boys prescribed Risperdal, the judge presiding over the claim has reduced the award, but determined that $6.8 million in damages were justified to punish the drug manufacturer and deter similar conduct in the future.
In a long-expected move, Judge Kenneth Powell determined that the massive jury award was excessive, after the jury awarded punitive damages more than 11,000 times the amount of compensatory damages awarded to a Maryland man diagnosed with gynecomastia following use of Risperdal as a child.
A case brought by Nicholas Murray originally went to trial in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in 2015, resulting in a compensatory damage award of $1.75 million. However, an appellate court later reduced that damage award to $680,000, and remanded the case for another trial to determine whether additional punitive damages should be awarded based on the failure to warn doctors and families about the potential Risperdal risks.
Following trial to determine punitive damages, a new jury sent a strong signal to the pharmaceutical industry, indicating that Johnson & Johnson should be required to pay $8 billion in additional damages.
In a ruling issued last week, Judge Powell reduced the award to $6.8 million, which is 10 times the amount of compensatory damages and generally held to be the upper threshold for punitive damage awards that are constitutionally permitted. Judge Powell did not give a reason for the decision to uphold the verdict or reduce the punitive damages amount, but both sides have indicated they plan to appeal the decision.
Murray is one of thousands of individuals pursuing Risperdal lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, indicating he developed breasts after he began taking the drug for treatment of autism in 2003, when he was only 10 years old.
The jury verdict was widely viewed as a “bellwether” to gauge how juries may respond to similar evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout the litigation, as each of the cases 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.
The punitive damages verdict was notable not only for its massive size, but also because it is the first Risperdal trial where a jury was allowed to consider awarding punitive damages, after the Pennsylvania Superior Court cleared the way for such damages in a January 2018 ruling.
The drug maker has reached some individual Risperdal settlements, and could face increasing pressure to resolve the remaining litigation in the face of potential punitive damage awards in each claim.