Appeals court opens door for Punitive Damages in Risperdal cases

An appeals court decision out of Pennsylvania has opened Johnson & Johnson up to punitive damages in thousands of pending Risperdal cases.  The decision came from a three-judge panel that ruled the lower court had improperly decided that the laws of the plaintiff’s home state should not be applied.


Timothy Stange, a Wisconsin resident, began taking Risperdal in 2006 for Tourette Syndrome.  He was 12 years old at the time and living in Wisconsin while he was prescribed the antipsychotic medication.  Six years after he began taking the drug he had to have surgery to remove breasts that grew as a result of the prescription, according to court records.  The mastectomy caused permanent scars and he endured bullying from classmates from the breast growth, a condition called gynecomastia.  A Philadelphia jury awarded Stange $500,000 in compensatory damages.  He was barred from collecting punitive damages.  The lower court ruled that New Jersey law should be applied since the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. had headquarters there.  New Jersey law prevents plaintiffs from being awarded punitive damages if the drug in question was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.  Risperdal was approved by the FDA in 2006 for use as an antipsychotic drug.  [1]


The Appeals court disagreed with that decision remanding the case for further consideration on the interstate issue.  Wisconsin, Stange’s home state, allows for a plaintiff to recover compensatory and punitive damages which would greatly increase the amount recovered by Stange and other plaintiffs of the nearly 5500 pending Risperdal cases.  Wisconsin law caps punitive damages at $200,000 or twice the amount of any compensatory damages awarded according to the court decision.  The decision to apply New Jersey law was a global order that applied to all of the consolidated Risperdal cases.  The challenge and results of the appeal will, thus, be applied to all of the cases that were consolidated as part of the mass tort program in the Philadelphia County court.


All plaintiffs argue that the manufacturer of Risperdal, also known by the generic name Risperidone, concealed information that the drug caused gynecomastia or the risk of breast growth in men.   This decision follows the record-setting $70 million verdict issued by a Philadelphia jury last year.  In that case, Andrew Yount of Tennessee, began taking Risperdal at the age of 5.  He was awarded $70 million in damages related to the disfigurement and emotional distress associated with breast growth.  Prior to that decision, the most a jury had awarded in a Risperdal case was $2.5 million.  [2]


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