A Pennsylvania Superior Court has rejected Johnson & Johnson’s appeal of a 2016 $70 million verdict awarded to a 20 year-old Tennessee man, Andrew Yount (A.Y.) who developed gynecomastia after taking the antipsychotic drug Risperdal since he was 4-1/2 years old. Gynecomastia is an irreversible condition caused by an increase in the hormone prolactin and results in young men growing female-like breasts. Removing the breasts requires a surgical mastectomy.

In 2003, when Yount began taking Risperdal, the drug was not approved for use in children and was prescribed by some doctors “off-label.” The FDA has since approved pediatric use of the antipsychotic and required a black box warning of the risk of gynecomastia on the label. Yount’s doctor testified that had he known of the risk of gynecomastia in 2003, he would not have prescribed the drug to Yount in the first place.

The panel of three appellate judges rejected J&J’s argument that because Yount had been on and off of Risperdal most of his life, even after discovering he had developed gynecomastia, he would have taken the drug regardless of the side effects. However, because the condition was irreversible, the justices dismissed the argument as irrelevant.

“A.Y. was just 4-1⁄2 years old when first prescribed Risperdal, and he has never since known life without gynecomastia.”

“A.Y. was just 4-1⁄2 years old when first prescribed Risperdal, and he has never since known life without gynecomastia,” the opinion said. “At sixteen years of age when the jury considered its award, A.Y. was living with severe and permanent disfigurement. The undisputed record confirms he has been routinely bullied and teased by peers and is too humiliated to ever remove his shirt in recreational or social situations where it would be customary for boys to do so when enjoying ordinary pleasures of youth.” 

After upholding the $70 million verdict in compensatory damages, the appellate court sent Yount’s case back to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas to rehear argument for punitive damages. A recent Superior Court ruling reversed the ban on punitive damages in Risperdal cases resulting in a $8 billion verdict in the first case to go back to trial for punitive damages only.

“This jury verdict affirmance and rejection of Johnson & Johnson’s preemption arguments dovetails with the appellate rulings against Johnson & Johnson relating to the drug Risperdal, where similar verdicts have been upheld, punitive damages have been reinstated, and cases dismissed under the statute of limitations have been reinstated, all paving the way for continued progress and additional jury verdicts against a company whose misconduct toward children has been exposed in the courts of this Commonwealth,” said a joint statement from Kline & Specter attorneys Chip Becker and Thomas Kline and Arnold & Itkin attorney Jason Itkin, who represented A.Y. “We look forward to the punitive damages trial in this case.” 

Johnson & Johnson faces around 13,600 Risperdal lawsuits nationally, as well as 16,800 talc ovarian cancer cases. The drug manufacturer is also involved in lawsuits filed by multiple cities, states and counties across the U.S. for the part the pharmaceutical giant played in the opioid crisis.

Andrew Yount and his mother are represented by Charles L. “Chip” Becker, Christopher A. Gomez, Thomas R. Kline and Andra M. Laidacker of Kline & Specter PC, Stephen A. Sheller of Sheller PC and Jason A. Itkin and Cory Itkin of Arnold & Itkin LLP. 

Janssen Can’t Use Tenn. Law to Nix $70M Risperdal Verdict, Law360, November 26, 2019

J&J Can’t Get $70 Million Risperdal Award Tossed on Appeal, Bloomberg Law, November 26, 2019

Johnson & Johnson can’t get $70M Risperdal verdict tossed at Pennsylvania appeals court, FiercePharma, November 26, 2019