New York: Johnson & Johnson must pay $8 billion (Dh29.4 billion) in punitive damages to a man who previously won $680,000 over his claims that it failed to warn that young men using its anti psychotic drug Risperdal could grow breasts, a Philadelphia jury said on Tuesday.
The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas jury’s verdict in favor of Nicholas Murray came in the first case in which a Pennsylvania jury had been able to consider awarding punitive damages in one of thousands of Risperdal cases pending in the state.
J&J and a lawyer for Murray did not immediately comment on the verdict.
The extremely large punitive damages award is likely to be reduced on the grounds that it violates due process.
In a 2003 case, the US Supreme Court threw out a $145 million punitive damage award and held that, “few awards exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages, to a significant degree, will satisfy due process.” Murray, like other male plaintiffs in the mass tort litigation over Risperdal, alleges that he developed breasts after being prescribed the medicine when he was a minor. The US Food and Drug Administration approved the drug in late 1993 for treating schizophrenia and episodes of bipolar mania in adults.
Plaintiffs claim that J&J failed to warn of the risk of gynecomastia, the development of enlarged breasts in males, associated with Risperdal, which they say the company marketed for unapproved uses with children.
In his lawsuit, Murray, now 26, alleged that he developed breasts after his doctors began prescribing him Risperdal off-label in 2003 after a psychologist diagnosed him with autism spectrum disorder. Doctors are allowed to prescribe medicines as they see fit, while companies are only allowed to promote their drugs for approved uses.
A jury in 2015 awarded Murray $1.75 million after finding J&J was negligent in failing to warn of the risk of gynecomastia. A state appeals court upheld the verdict in February 2018 but reduced it to $680,000.
Plaintiffs in the mass tort litigation had been barred from seeking punitive damages since 2014, when a state court judge ruled that the law of New Jersey, which prohibits punitive damages and is J&J’s home state, should be applied globally to the cases.
But the Pennsylvania Superior Court 2018 ruling cleared the way for punitive damages awards, holding that the law of each plaintiff’s state should instead apply.