'A tipping point:' Punitive damages question to be decided in pair of Philadelphia Risperdal cases

By Nicholas Malfitano | Sep 21, 2018

Risperdal  

PHILADELPHIA – A Philadelphia judge’s decree has paved the way for new trials in two Risperdal cases, in order to determine the applicability of punitive damages in those same actions.

On Sept. 14, Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge Arnold L. New, ruled in a pair of separate orders that the defense would not be granted summary judgment, and that the plaintiffs in Risperdal litigations Stange v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Murray v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals will have the opportunity to apply the laws of their home states to try and obtain punitive damages from Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the developer of Risperdal and a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.

Prior to Judge New’s recent order, a similar ruling was made in the Superior Court in January. Before that, the pursuit and application of punitive damages in Risperdal cases was prohibited according to New Jersey state law – because Johnson & Johnson is headquartered there. New previously agreed with that rationale, before his original ruling to bar punitive damages was reversed by the Superior Court.

Lead plaintiff counsel in the Philadelphia-based Risperdal litigation, Tom Kline of Kline & Specter in Philadelphia, indicated New’s order rendered last week was a pivotal decision in the mass tort series.

“We believe this is a tipping point in this litigation. We have always steadfastly and wholeheartedly believed that this is a punitive damages case and this ruling by Judge New is a welcome pathway forward to the plaintiffs obtaining a full measure of justice,” Kline said.

Janssen spokesperson Kelsey Buckholtz expressed disappointment in Judge New’s order, on behalf of the pharmaceutical company.

“We are disappointed in the Court’s ruling and are continuing to review our options going forward. Risperdal (risperidone) has helped and is still helping millions of patients with debilitating mental illnesses and neurodevelopmental conditions as part of a comprehensive treatment plan,” Buckholtz said.

The key development on the issue of punitive damages started with Johnson & Johnson’s appeal to the Superior Court of the verdict in the Stange v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals case, a lawsuit in which Wisconsin plaintiff Timothy Stange asserted an inadequate warning of developing gynecomastia from taking Risperdal.

Stange used the drug for three years during his childhood, for treatment of Tourette’s syndrome. At the conclusion of the trial in December 2015, a Philadelphia jury awarded Stange $500,000, and the January Superior Court ruling upheld his arguments that an inadequate warning of the gynecomastia risks directly caused his injuries. In Stange’s new trial, he can attempt to apply Wisconsin law to attempt to obtain punitive damages from Johnson & Johnson.

In the case of Murray v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, involving Maryland plaintiff Nicholas Murray, a jury decided the case in Murray’s favor in November 2015 and awarded him $1.75 million. The $1.75 million jury verdict represents damages for “disfigurement and mental anguish”, though it was later cut down to $680,000.

Murray was prescribed Risperdal at the age of nine in 2003, for off-label treatment of symptoms associated with his Asperger’s Syndrome. Like other plaintiffs who stepped forward, Murray also allegedly contracted gynecomastia as a result.

Plaintiff counsel aims to fight cap limits on punitive damages as part of the new trials.

Currently, 6,700 lawsuits based in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas and its Complex Litigation Center – most from out-of-state plaintiffs – allege Risperdal causes young males to contract gynecomastia, or the development of female breast tissue, and that Johnson & Johnson failed to adequately warn of that side effect from the drug.

In addition to 6,700 Risperdal cases, the CLC has several other mass tort programs including cases over asbestos and Xarelto, and the percentage of claims belonging to out-of-state plaintiffs has traditionally been in the high 80s.

In 2016, the percentage for pharmaceutical lawsuits dropped to 74 percent.

In 2017, CLC stats show that figure jumped to an unprecedented 94 percent. Earlier this year, it was reported that figure showed a slight decrease, to 84 percent.

Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas cases 130401984 & 130401990

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Kline & Specter PC Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas

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