More than 5,000 lawsuits have been filed against Johnson & Johnson for failure to warn doctors and consumers that Risperdal can cause boys to grow large breasts, a condition known as gynecomastia.
At least 1,500 Risperdal cases have been consolidated in Pennsylvania on behalf of individuals who allege the drug caused excessive male breast growth and other complications. Complex litigation with multiple plaintiffs takes time. First filed in 2010, Risperdal bellwether trials are currently underway in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
One case now before a jury was brought by a Risperdal user who was prescribed the drug off-label as an 11-year-old boy to treat symptoms associated with Tourette’s syndrome. The plaintiff, who required surgery to remove excess breast tissue that allegedly resulted from his use of Risperdal, claims that Johnson & Johnson and its Janssen Pharmaceutical unit made millions of dollars by improperly promoting unapproved pediatric use of the drug. The lawsuit also alleges the pharmaceutical companies did not adequately warn doctors and consumers about the association between Risperdal and the development of gynecomastia in boys.
Risperdal in the News
Overall, media coverage of this case has been sporadic at best. However, the Huffington Post has released a massive 58,000-word, 15-chapter “DocuSerial,” which casts a bright light on the far-reaching effects of Risperdal. As part of their extensive reporting, the publication released the following short film, entitled, “The Boy with 46-DD Breasts.” The documentary follows the story of Austin Pledger, who developed “large pendulous breasts” as a teen after he began taking the drug for autism at age eight.
Jury awards $2.5 million in Risperdal lawsuit
Boys and young men who develop gynecomastia after taking Risperdal may be eligible to receive financial compensation for both physical and emotional injuries. In February 2015, Pledger was awarded $2.5 million after a judge declared J & J failed to warn the drug could cause breast development. While some Risperdal cases have gone to trial, others settle out of court. Although the terms are confidential, settlements typically include money for surgery, ongoing medical care and counseling.
UPDATE (11/9/15) – In the third bellwether Risperdal trial in Pennsylvania, a jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $1.75 million to a Maryland man who developed female breasts while taking Risperdal. The plaintiff, who had been prescribed Risperdal off-label when he was 9-years-old to treat symptoms associated with autism, was awarded compensatory damages for disfigurement and mental anguish.
Do lawsuits hurt big pharma?
Damages are awarded in a civil lawsuit to “make the plaintiff whole.” In some cases, punitive damages are also awarded to punish the defendant and (hopefully) deter future misdeeds. Unfortunately, most lawsuits against pharmaceutical manufacturers don’t make any difference in how these behemoths do business. Why? Big pharma has very deep pockets, as evidenced by the following statement, which Johnson & Johnson filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2013—a year when their pharmaceutical segment achieved sales of $28.1 billion.
In the Company’s opinion, based on its examination of these matters, its experience to date and discussions with counsel, the ultimate outcome of legal proceedings . . . is not expected to have a material adverse effect on the Company’s financial position.
So, it seems that although Johnson & Johnson—and many of the top pharmaceutical corporations—face thousands of expensive lawsuits, they’ll be just fine. Too bad the same can’t be said for the thousands of hapless victims of corporate greed.
Brill, Steven. “America’s Most Admired Lawbreaker.” The Huffington Post, September 15, 2015.
Johnson & Johnson. 2013 Annual Report. New Brunswick, NJ: Johnson & Johnson, 2013.
Kristof, Nicholas. “When Crime Pays: J&J’s Drug Risperdal.” The New York Times, September 17, 2015.
Wasserman, Emily. “J&J slapped with 1.75M verdict in Risperdal breast growth case.” FiercePharma, November 10, 2015.