Superior Court Allows Punitive Damages in Risperdal Mass Torts

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In a significant ruling by the Pennsylvania Superior Court, Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson (J&J), will now face punitive damages in Risperdal mass tort suits. A previous Philadelphia trial court ruling prohibited punitive damages.  Boys and young men who developed gynecomastia, female-like breasts, from taking the antipsychotic drug and whose cases had already been tried will now go back to court to seek punitive damages. The ruling will also affect the 6,000 pending cases in Philadelphia.

A three-judge panel ruled that plaintiffs may ask courts to apply the laws of their home states instead of the state in which the case is being tried or the defendant’s home state. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey (location of Janssen’s corporate office), product liability laws prohibit punitive damages.

Juries may award punitive damages to a plaintiff if they feel the defendant acted egregiously. Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Kenneth J. Powell Jr. ruled in J&J’s appeal of Timothy Stange’s verdict.  In his order denying J&J a motion to overturn the verdict he wrote:

J&J “hid evidence of the association between Risperdal use and elevated prolactin levels.” Prolactin is a chemical in the body that causes breast growth.

“The defendants themselves are to blame for the fact that the plaintiff’s prolactin levels were not carefully monitored during the period in which he was prescribed Risperdal. Now the defendants wish to benefit from their own concealment.”

As a child, Stange took Risperdal for 3 years to control Tourette syndrome symptoms.

The Superior Court ruling in Stange v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, allows Wisconsin law to be applied to Timothy Stange’s case. In his suit against Janssen, Stange was awarded $500,000. His case will now be re-evaluated for punitive damages, which Wisconsin law provides for $200,000 or twice the compensatory verdict ($500,000) bringing the maximum punitive award of $1 million.

“This is something we’ve been right about from the beginning and maybe now, once and for all, J&J will recognize they’re facing punitive damages.” Stephen Sheller, Sheller PC is quoted in The Legal Intelligencer

J&J has faced verdict losses for compulsory damages of between $500,000 – $77 million. With the added risk of punitive damages, lead plaintiffs’ attornies believe it is an incentive for the pharmaceutical company to negotiate settlements.

Pa. Superior Court Opens Door for Punitive Damages Claims in Risperdal Mass Tort, The Legal Intelligencer January 8, 2018

Risperdal Plaintiffs Get OK to Seek Punitive Damages, DrugWatch January 9, 2018

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