Risperdal mass tort trial begins in Phila. Common Pleas Court

By Jon Campisi | Sep 25, 2012

Two weeks after Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals settled with one

plaintiff on what was supposed to be the first day of a Risperdal mass tort trial at Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court, another trial began in the same venue involving similar allegations of off-label marketing concerning the antipsychotic drug.

After a jury of 12 members and three alternates were seated in the second-floor courtroom of Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Mark Bernstein Sept. 24, lawyers for a young Texas man who allegedly developed female breast tissue as a result of his taking Risperdal for the better part of a decade spoke about what they view as a pattern of negligence on the part of the defendants.

“This company made a drug that was not approved for use in children,” attorney Robert Hilliard, of the Texas firm Hilliard Munoz Gonzales, told the jury on what he believes the evidence at trial will show.

Hilliard is working alongside attorneys from Philadelphia-based Sheller P.C. to represent the plaintiff, a man identified in court papers as “A.B.” due to the fact that he’s still a minor.

A guardian for the now-17-year-old plaintiff sued on the young man’s behalf back in early January 2010.

The lawsuit, filed at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, alleges that the teenager developed a condition known in the medical community as gynecomastia, or the growth of female breast tissue in males.

An overarching claim in Risperdal cases is that the pharmaceutical, which was designed to treat adults with schizophrenia, has over the years been marketed to children, and have caused males in particular to develop female-like breasts.

Brian McCormick, an attorney with Philadelphia’s Sheller P.C., previously told the Pennsylvania Record that there are about 86 Risperdal cases currently pending in the master Risperdal docket at Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court.

The master litigation was created in 2010 to consolidate Risperdal suits from across the country.

McCormick was in court on Monday as his co-litigator, Hilliard, the Texas attorney, told the jury why he and his colleagues believe the defendants continued to market Risperdal as safe for use in juveniles – "the almighty dollar."

Hilliard argued that when company higher-ups discovered there weren’t enough diagnosed schizophrenics in the country to make Risperdal profitable, they began ordering the drug to be marketed toward a different segment of the consuming public – young people with diagnosed “mood disorders,” including Autism, bipolar disorder and depression.

A.B., the plaintiff in the current case, has Asperger’s Disorder, a disorder similar to Autism that involves social and communication issues.

His attorneys said in court that doctors started the plaintiff on Risperdal in 2000, when he was just 5 years old.

The young man continued on his treatment for the next decade. In 2009, an ultrasound confirmed that he had gynecomastia.

Hilliard said evidence at trial will show that a pharmaceutical that was never meant for children, was, in fact, illegally marketed to that segment of the population.

Holding up a bottle of the pills, Hilliard told the jury that only one so-called “atypical antipsychotic” medication, Risperdal, raises Prolactin in males.

Prolactin is a hormone that causes lactation in women, but in cases of gynecomastia, it’s what leads males to grow breasts.

Hilliard said the plaintiff developed the condition because the young man’s physician was given the wrong information, or rather, the doctor was told by pharmaceutical sales representatives that the drug was safe for use in children.

The defense was expected to give their opening statements immediately following those of the plaintiff’s team, but their remarks got pushed back due to the trial getting a late start.

The trial, which is expected to last about three weeks, was scheduled to continue on Tuesday.

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