A Philadelphia judge has refused to disturb the $2.5 million jury verdict that was returned against a Johnson & Johnson unit over allegations its antipsychotic drug Risperdal caused an autistic boy to grow breasts. Interestingly, both sides had asked for new trials. Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge Ramy I. Djerassi denied the new trial bids. In his May 4 order, Judge Djerassi rejected Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s argument that letting in a new expert during the bellwether trial had prejudiced the drugmaker.
Judge Djerassi also refused the now 20-year-old Austin Pledger and his mother a new trial exclusively on Janssen’s punitive liability and damages. Janssen had argued that the substitution of Pledger’s causation expert left the drugmaker’s lawyers unprepared for the new testimony. The company also claimed that the $2.5 million figure was excessive because it was solely based on the mother’s testimony, including her account of her son’s experiences after growing breasts.
Pledger had requested a new trial on punitive damages, saying Judge Arnold L. New, the coordinating judge of Philadelphia’s Complex Litigation Center, had erroneously dismissed his bid for putative damages during the pretrial proceedings. Judge New said New Jersey law applied to punitive damages and did not permit any recovery in the case. Pledger’s family had sued the drugmaker in April 2012, alleging the boy grew large breasts after a nearly five-year course of Risperdal treatment beginning in 2002, when he was 7 years old. In February 2015, a Philadelphia jury returned the $2.5 million verdict for Pledger. The suit is one of 1,500 Risperdal cases pending in a mass tort program in the court. The Pledger verdict marks the third Risperdal case Janssen has lost at trial so far.
In November, another jury awarded $1.75 million to a Maryland man who took Risperdal as a 9-year-old in 2003. Janssen lost its bid to throw out that verdict in March, but the verdict was reduced to $680,000. In December, a jury awarded a Wisconsin man $500,000 in another Risperdal case. The trial judge in that case denied the Plaintiff’s bid for a new damages trial in January. The drugmaker did get a victory in the second Risperdal trial, when in March 2015 a jury found that Janssen was negligent in warning about the drug’s risks, but that this failure was not the cause of the patient’s abnormal breast growth.
The Plaintiffs in the case are represented by Thomas R. Kline and Charles L. Becker of Kline & Specter PC and Stephen A. Sheller and Christopher A. Gomez of Sheller PC. The case is in the Court of Common Pleas of the State of Pennsylvania, County of Philadelphia.
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