The Pennsylvania Superior Court has upheld the $70 million verdict awarded to a Tennessee man who developed female-like breasts while taking Risperdal as a child.
In a decision issued late last month, the appeals court also ordered that the Risperdal lawsuit be remanded to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas for a new trial on punitive damages.
Risperdal is a powerful anti-psychotic drug manufactured by Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals subsidiary. While Risperdal came on the market in the mid-1990s, it wasn’t approved for any pediatric indications until October 2006. At that time, the drug’s label was updated to state that gynecomastia (excessive male breast growth) occurred in 2.3% of those taking the drug. The label had previously described the disfiguring condition as a rare side effect that occurred in fewer than 1 in 1,000 patients.
Andrew Yount, a resident of Tennessee, began taking Risperdal off-label in 2003, at the age of 5, to treat ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder. Within a year, he had developed female-like breasts. In July 2015, a Philadelphia jury awarded him $70 million in compensatory damages after finding that Janssen failed to warn his doctors about the risk of gynecomastia and intentionally falsified, destroyed or concealed evidence in the case.
In seeking to overturn the Risperdal verdict, attorneys for Johnson & Johnson argued that the trial court had wrongly barred some of the company’s experts from testifying. But in an Opinion dated November 26th, a three-judge Superior Court panel noted that Yount’s use of Risperdal had resulted in “severe and permanent disfigurement” that made him a target for bullies.
Like thousands of other Risperdal gynecomastia plaintiffs with claims pending in the Philadelphia mass tort program, Yount was barred from pursuing punitive damages because of a trial court decision that applied New Jersey law to their cases. Johnson & Johnson is headquartered in New Jersey, which prohibits punitive damages in product liability lawsuits that involve federally approved medications.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned that ruling last year, opening the door for Yount and other plaintiffs to make a bid for punitive damages under the laws of their home states.
The first punitive damages trial convened in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling resulted in an $8 billion verdict for a Maryland man who had been prescribed Risperdal off-label to treat symptoms associated with Asperger’s syndrome. In November 2015, another Philadelphia jury had awarded the same plaintiff $680,000 in compensatory damages.
The ruling in Yount’s case is just the latest victory for Risperdal gynecomastia plaintiffs. Most recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that both trial court and Superior Court had erred in establishing a statute of limitations that would have resulted in the dismissal of 40% of the Risperdal lawsuits pending in the Philadelphia mass tort program.