Last week’s $8 billion Risperdal verdict was just the latest legal setback for Johnson & Johnson.
Over the past year, the healthcare products giant has faced billions in court losses and settlements for talcum powder, opioid painkillers, artificial hips, and other allegedly defective products.
But with more than 100,000 additional cases still to be litigated, Johnson & Johnson’s legal woes are likely to grow much worse in the coming months.
A jury in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $8 billion in punitive damages to a man who developed gynecomastia while taking Risperdal for an off-label indication as a child. The panel levied the massive award after finding that the company’s Janssen Pharmaceutical’s unit wrongfully promoted the drug for use in children and failed to warn doctors and patients about Risperdal’s link to excessive male breast growth.
Johnson & Johnson still faces nearly 7,000 similar Risperdal lawsuits in Pennsylvania, while thousands of additional cases remain pending nationwide. In December, a second Philadelphia jury will consider punitive damages for yet another gynecomastia plaintiff.
“These punitive damage cases are like a card game where the jokers are wild,” Richard Ausness, a University of Kentucky law professor who specializes in mass torts, told Bloomberg News “J&J doesn’t have a clue about its total exposure because every one of them could be a billion or more. They ought to start thinking about coming up with a settlement to make these cases go away.”
Johnson & Johnson was recently hit with a $572 million verdict over opioid painkiller sales in Oklahoma, and still faces about 2,000 similar lawsuits in courts around the country. Earlier this month, the company settled a federal opioid lawsuit in Ohio for $20 million.
Another 15,000 lawsuits pending against Johnson & Johnson blame the company’s popular talc-based powders for causing ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. So far, plaintiff’s have won 12 talcum powder trials, while Johnson & Johnson has prevailed in approximately 10. The largest verdict came last year in Missouri, when 20 women with ovarian cancer or their survivors were awarded $4.7 billion.
Johnson & Johnson has had some success appealing talcum powder verdicts and is currently working to have the Missouri award overturned.
According to Bloomberg, mounting liability costs are one reason Johnson & Johnson’s shares are down 12% from their peak. Analysts have estimated that resolving all of the pending litigation could cost the company as much as $20 billion.
“J&J has been riding the litigation bronco over the past couple of years, and the ride is far from over,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who teaches about product liability. “I’m sure investors are tired of it.”