Janssen Facing Over 6,400 Cases in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas
By Mark A. York (January 18, 2017)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) Plaintiffs in the Risperdal litigation, may now seek punitive damages under a recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Superior Court. Previously, plaintiffs were prevented from seeking punitive damages because the laws of New Jersey, applied to the Risperdal cases filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, see Risperdal Re: Janssen: Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Johnson & Johnson is headquartered in New Jersey, with the courts previously applying those laws which barred punitive damages.
More than 6,000 Risperdal lawsuits in the Philadelphia docket allege Risperdal caused young men and boys to develop a condition called gynecomastia, where female breasts develop in male patients, with J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals failing to warn about the risk.
The three-judge Superior Court panel ruled on January 9, 2018, that plaintiffs in the Philadelphia cases may apply the law of their home state to seek punitive damages, which opens up an entirely new legal avenue for plaintiffs.
Johnson & Johnson stated they were “disappointed in the ruling” and will be considering all options moving forward, while plaintiff counsel commented “This is something we’ve been right about from the beginning and maybe now, once and for all, J&J will recognize they’re facing punitive damages.”
Now that there is a threat of punitive damages, J&J will have to determine long term case strategy, as the punitive awards against J&J in 2016 – 2017 in other mass torts amounted to over eight hundred million dollars, and plaintiffs’ attorneys hope J&J will consider settling the remaining cases.
Plaintiffs have filed more than 6,400 product liability cases resulting from the use of anti-psychotic drug Risperdal in the complex litigation docket of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Plaintiff lead counsel, Tom Kline of Kline & Specter in Philadelphia, says “stakes in these cases will be raised now that the prospect of punitive damages is in play.”
On Jan. 8, Superior Court Judges Jack A. Panella, Alice Beck Dubow and Kate Ford Elliott ruled that plaintiffs in the Philadelphia-based Risperdal litigation may apply the respective laws of their home states to attempt to obtain punitive damages from Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the developer of Risperdal and a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.
“This is a pivotal decision in the Risperdal litigation. The Court found that the trial evidence justified the verdict in plaintiff’s favor. In addition, the stakes in any mass tort are raised when punitive damages are recoverable. This thoughtful and thorough opinion will now provide guidance for the entire litigation moving forward,” Kline said.
J&J and Janssen official statement is “We are disappointed in the Court’s ruling and will consider our options going forward. Contrary to the impression plaintiffs’ attorneys have attempted to create over the course of this litigation, Risperdal (risperidone) is an important FDA-approved medicine that, when used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, continues to help millions of patients with mental illnesses and neurodevelopmental conditions,” there was no comment released by Janssen defense counsel.
Currently, most of the 6,400 lawsuits based in the Philadelphia Risperdal docket have been filed by out-of-state plaintiffs, who assert Risperdal causes young males to contract gynecomastia, or the development of female breast tissue, and that Johnson & Johnson failed to adequately warn of these side effects from the drug.
The Superior Court’s new ruling applies across-the-board, as even plaintiffs who have previously received jury verdicts in Risperdal litigation, can now petition the court for new trials or request hearings to enhance verdict awards by adding punitive damages. One prior jury verdict was for more than $70 million and plaintiffs can now request additional punitive damages be awarded.
Before this ruling, seeking of punitive damages in Risperdal cases was prohibited according to New Jersey state law – because Johnson & Johnson is headquartered there.
The ruling on Risperdal punitive damages started when Johnson & Johnson appealed the Stange vs. Janssen Pharmaceuticals verdict; where Wisconsin plaintiff Timothy Stange asserted an inadequate warning of developing gynecomastia from taking Risperdal.
Mr. Stange used Risperdal for three years during his childhood, for treatment of Tourette’s syndrome, and at the close of the trial, a Philadelphia jury awarded him $500,000, and the recent Superior Court ruling has now upheld plaintiff arguments that an inadequate warning of the gynecomastia risks directly caused his injuries.
According to reports from the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, of the suits filed in the first 3 months of 2017, about 80 percent of cases in the Complex Litigation docket, came from out-of-state plaintiffs. With this recent ruling, it would seem logical that the number of Risperdal lawsuits filed in the Philadelphia court, may increase dramatically as the potential verdict award amounts have just risen to unknown numbers at this point.
One explanation for the surge in Risperdal filings can be directed toward defendants Johnson & Johnson, when they decided to cancel tolling agreements on thousands of cases. Knowing this strategy would increase the number of cases filed and the burden on the Court.
Tolling agreements pause the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit, and J&J actions seem to indicate that they wanted more lawsuits, not less, with J&J deciding to cancel the agreement after the $77 million verdict.
To date, eight Risperdal case have gone to trial in Philadelphia, with four juries ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, and J&J getting the other four cases dismissed.
The first case to trial, filed by Austin Pledger of Alabama was heard in 2012, with the jury siding with Pledger, finding J&J and Janssen failed to warn the drug could cause gynecomastia, and the jury awarded $2.5 million to Mr. Pledger.
After two more verdicts of $500,000 and $1.75 million were awarded to plaintiffs, in 2016 a Philadelphia jury handed a landmark verdict of $70 million to Andrew Yount of Tennessee, with. Judge Paula Patrick adding nearly $7 million in additional damages over intentional delays during the legal proceedings.
With the new rules regarding punitive damage, including permitting retroactive claims by successful plaintiffs to now request punitives, Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Pharmaceuticals may need to rethink their long term case strategy, as having a punitive sword hanging over the 6,400 plus remaining cases, should cause defense counsel to re-evaluate their position sooner versus later.