PHILADELPHIA – After a Philadelphia jury rendered a staggering $8 billion punitive damages verdict at the end of a recent trial surrounding anti-psychotic drug Risperdal in October, the judge who presided over the trial reduced the verdict to $6.8 million on Friday.
A brief note on the case docket from Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge Kenneth Powell Jr. partially denied a post-trial motion from Risperdal’s developer Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, but granted it only on the issue of remitting the punitive damages award. The note did not explain Powell’s rationale for granting the company’s remittal motion.
The initial $8 billion award was cited as a major causative factor in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas securing the No. 1 ranking on the American Tort Reform Association's annual list of “Judicial Hellholes” last month.
At $6.8 million, the punitive damages awards now stands at 10 times the compensatory damages award finalized in the same case, which was $680,000.
Plaintiff counsel member Tom Kline of Kline & Specter issued a statement on the verdict’s reduction, which he confirmed would be appealed.
“The ruling is wrong and will be appealed. It wipes out a valid award of a jury which met all of the parameters under the decisional law and constitutional guardrails. The remitted verdict provides essentially no punishment for the worst of the worst of corporate misconduct. We believe that when the merits are reviewed, that the $8 billion will be reinstated,” Kline said.
“Further, this ruling defeats the purpose of punitive damages, which is to punish and deter. It incentivizes bad behavior and undermines the right to trial by jury.”
Johnson & Johnson did not yet respond to a request for comment from the Pennsylvania Record.
In 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 represented damages for “disfigurement and mental anguish,” though it was later cut down to $680,000.
In the second portion of the bifurcated trial, plaintiff counsel sought to prove that the companies knew and deliberately disregarded evidence that Risperdal could lead to gynecomastia in young males, and nonetheless promoted the drug off-label and released the drug into the open market for prescription and use by patients without disclosing the side effects.
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 developed gynecomastia.
At the end of a near four week-long trial, a 12-person jury found Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals liable by a ratio of 10-2, for allegedly knowing and consciously disregarding the potential of the drug to cause gynecomastia to patients like plaintiff Murray, and rendered a gigantic verdict of $8 billion.
Philadelphia has a history of high-dollar verdicts that Johnson & Johnson was trying to avoid while it also litigates opioid, talcum powder and other mass tort cases elsewhere. The city’s Complex Litigation Center is home to thousands of similar claims from out-of-state plaintiffs.
On Oct. 17, the company, through its counsel David F. Abernethy of Drinker Biddle & Reath, filed a pair of post-trial motions: The first of which called for the nullification or “severe” remittal of the $8 billion jury award, or a retrial. This is the motion which was just approved.
The second called for the presiding judge, Powell, to recuse himself from the case moving forward, alleging improper conduct like high-fives and pictures with jurors.
Powell totally denied the latter motion, referred to the company counsel’s charges of improper conduct on his behalf as untrue and “fabricated,” and said the attorneys who filed the motion were seeking to create a diversion in order to cover for their “inadequate” representation in the case.
Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas case 130401990
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org