World

Johnson & Johnson must pay $11b over male breast growth

Company is confident that jury decision will be overturned

NEW YORK: Johnson & Johnson (J&J) must pay US$8 billion (S$11 billion) in punitive damages to a man who previously won US$680,000 over his claims that it failed to warn that young men using its antipsychotic drug Risperdal could grow breasts, a Philadelphia jury said.

The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas jury ruled in favour of Mr Nicholas Murray, 26.

It was the first case in which a Pennsylvania jury had been able to consider awarding punitive damages in one of thousands of Risperdal cases pending in the state.

"This jury, as have other juries in other litigations, once again imposed punitive damages on a corporation that valued profits over safety and profits over patients," Mr Murray's lawyers, Mr Tom Kline and Mr Jason Itkin, said in a joint statement.

"Johnson & Johnson and (subsidiary) Janssen chose billions over children."

J&J said the award was "grossly disproportionate with the initial compensatory award in this case, and the company is confident it will be overturned".

It added the jury in the case had not been allowed to hear evidence of Risperdal's benefits.

Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law said he expects the punitive damages to be lowered on appeal, citing a US Supreme Court decision.

SENDING A MESSAGE

Prof Tobias said the verdict was about sending a message.

"A jury, if it's outrageous enough conduct, will award a big number and let the lawyers and judges work it out," he said.

Prof Tobias added that the verdict could be a sign that J&J will face more large damages awards in other Risperdal cases.

"The kind of evidence in this trial may persuade another jury or judge to do something similar," he said.

Mr Murray, like other male plaintiffs in the mass tort litigation over Risperdal, alleges that he developed breasts after being prescribed the medicine when he was a minor.

The US Food and Drug Administration approved the drug in late 1993 for treating schizophrenia and episodes of bipolar mania in adults.

In his lawsuit, Mr Murray alleged that he developed breasts after his doctors began prescribing him Risperdal off-label in 2003 to treat symptoms of autism.

Doctors are allowed to prescribe medicines as they see fit, while companies are allowed to promote their drugs only for approved uses.

A jury in 2015 awarded Mr Murray US$1.75 million after finding J&J was negligent in failing to warn of the risk of gynecomastia, or swelling of breast tissue in males.

A state appeals court upheld the verdict in February last year but reduced it to US$680,000. - REUTERS

COURT & CRIME