PHILADELPHIA (CN) — A jury slapped Johnson and Johnson with $8 billion in punitive damages Tuesday, compensating a man who said he grew breasts after taking the company’s antipsychotic drug Risperdal.
Nicholas Murray, 26, of Maryland, brought the underlying suit in 2013 against Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Although thousands of similar suits have been filed, today’s verdict in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas marks the first in which a jury has awarded punitive damages.
“This jury, as have other juries in other litigations, once again imposed punitive damages on a corporation that valued profits over safety and profits over patients,” Murray’s lawyers, Tom Kline and Jason Itkin, said in a joint statement. “Johnson & Johnson and Janssen chose billions over children.”
The Pennsylvania Superior Court cleared the way for such verdicts in 2018, four years after a state judge ruled that the law of New Jersey, where Johnson & Johnson is based, should be applied globally to the cases.
New Jersey prohibits punitive damages, and the first jury to hear Murray’s case awarded him $1.75 million in 2015 for negligence. A state appeals court upheld the verdict in February 2018 but reduced it to $680,000.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Risperdal in late 1993 for treating schizophrenia and episodes of bipolar mania in adults, but Murray said Johnson & Johnson’s marketing of the drug for off-label uses led doctors to put him on it in 2003 after he was diagnosed with autism.
Murray developed female breast tissue soon thereafter and accused Johnson & Johnson of failing to warn about the risk of developing this permanent condition, known as gynecomastia.
Johnson & Johnson voiced confidence Wednesday that Murray’s new award will be calling the verdict “grossly disproportionate” and “a clear violation of due process.”
“United States Supreme Court precedent dictates that punitive damages awards that are a double-digit multiplier of the compensatory award should be set aside,” the company said in a statement.
Carl Tobias, a professor with the University of Richmond School of Law, told Reuters that he expects Murray’s award today will shrink on appeal but that the precedent could pave the way for more big Risperdal verdicts going forward.
Johnson & Johnson also noted meanwhile that it was not able to craft a good defense argument because certain evidence had been excluded.
“As a result, the jury did not hear evidence as to how the label for Risperdal clearly and appropriately outlined the risks associated with the medicine, or the benefits [the medication] provides to patients with serious mental illness,” the company said.
It also said Murray’s attorneys failed to present any evidence of actual harm.
Lawyers for Murray at Kline & Specter did not return a request for comment. Murray is also represented by the firm Arnold & Itkin.
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