A Risperdal gynecomastia plaintiff has been given another chance at punitive damages, after a Philadelphia judge denied Johnson & Johnson’s motion for summary judgement.
Maryland resident Nicholas Murray was prescribed Risperdal in 2003 for the off-label treatment of Asperger’s Syndrome. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) had not yet approved the powerful antipsychotic for any autism-related conditions, nor had it cleared Risperdal for use in children.
According to his lawsuit, Risperdal caused Murray to develop gynecomastia, an embarrassing condition marked by the development of female-like breasts. In November 2015, a jury in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas found in Murray’s favor and awarded him $1.75 million for disfigurement and mental anguish. However, the award was later reduced to $685,000 to comply with Maryland’s statutory limits on non-economic damages.
Like other Risperdal gynecomastia plaintiff’s in Philadelphia, Murry was prevented from pursing punitive damages after the trial judge ruled that New Jersey law should apply to their lawsuits. Johnson & Johnson is headquartered in New Jersey, where state law forbids punitive damage award in product liability cases involving FDA-approved drugs.
However, the Pennsylvania Superior Court eventually overturned the ruling, finding that the trial judge should have considered the law of each plaintiffs’ home state before deciding whether or not to allow such claims. As a result, Murray and another gynecomastia plaintiff, Timothy Stange, were granted new trials on punitive damages.
Stange was initially awarded $500,000 in compensatory damages when his Risperdal trial concluded in December 2015. Johnson & Johnson reached a confidential settlement with the Wisconsin resident earlier this year, before his new punitive damages trial could get underway.
Johnson & Johnson made one last attempt to dismiss Murray’s punitive damage claims, but the trial judge denied the company’s summary judgement motion last Wednesday. His new trial is scheduled to begin on September 16th in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
Johnson & Johnson and its Janssen Pharmaceutical unit are defending more than 7,000 Risperdal gynecomastia lawsuits in Philadelphia.
The FDA approved the atypical antipsychotic in 1993 to treat adults with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. However, Risperdal was only approved to treat children with autism-related behavioral issues in October 2006, marking the first time the FDA endorsed the drug for pediatric use.
That same month, Janssen updated the medication’s label to state that gynecomastia affected 2.3% of adolescent boys treated with Risperdal. Previously, excessive breast growth was characterized as a rare side effect that only affected about 1 in 1,000 patients.
In November 2013, Johnson & Johnson and Janssen paid $2.2 billion to settle federal civil and criminal charges over their marketing tactics. Among other things, the U.S. Department of Justice claimed that the companies illegally promoted Risperdal for off-label uses, including the treatment of children years before the FDA approved any such indications.