A three-judge Superior Court panel on Tuesday issued its ruling in Murray v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, which was the third case to go to trial from the Risperdal mass tort program in Philadelphia. The case had initially come to a $1.75 million verdict, which was later reduced by the trial court to $680,000.
The unanimous panel rejected defendant Janssen Pharmaceutical’s attempt to overturn the verdict and affirmed the trial judge’s decision to cap the jury award based on a Maryland law that caps noneconomic damages.
However, citing its decision in a case last month that opened the doors for Risperdal plaintiffs to seek recovery of punitive damages, Judge John Bender remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether plaintiff Nicholas Murray, a Maryland resident, should be allowed to seek punitive damages in the case.
“Because the trial court previously concluded that New Jersey law should apply to the punitive damages issue for all Risperdal plaintiffs regardless of case-specific facts, we remand this matter so that Mr. Murray may create an individual record pertaining to the distinct conflict-of-law principles at play in his particular case,” Bender said. “Because a true conflict exists, the trial court must determine whether the substantive law of New Jersey or Maryland applies.”
The first case in which the Superior Court determined that plaintiffs should be allowed to seek punitive damages was Stange v. Janssen, which the court decided in mid-January.
The Stange court held that, when it comes to the question of whether they should be allowed to seek punitive damages at trial, plaintiffs could seek to have the law of their home state apply to their case. The ruling reversed a decision that had applied New Jersey law to the Risperdal litigation globally. The Garden State’s products liability law specifically prohibits punitive damages.
According to Bender, Maryland law allows punitive damages “in an attempt to punish a defendant whose conduct is characterized by evil motive, intent to injure, or fraud, and to warn others contemplating similar conduct of the serious risk of monetary liability.”
Neither Murray nor Janssen disputed that Maryland law allows for punitive damages in pharmaceutical products liability cases, but the parties did dispute whether Maryland or New Jersey law should apply.
Murray, according to Bender, contended that Maryland law applies because he was prescribed Risperdal in Maryland, and Janssen’s communications and sales representatives also communicated numerous times with his treating physicians in the Old Line State.
Janssen, however, countered that Murray’s punitive damages claims hinge on allegations that the company misled federal regulators, consultants, physicians and the public—all of which is alleged to have happened in New Jersey.
An emailed statement from Kline & Specter attorneys Thomas R. Kline and Charles “Chip” Becker, who are representing Murray and are leading attorneys in the Risperdal litigation, said, “The Murray decision ratifies the sufficiency of the evidence concerning Janssen’s negligence and liability in Risperdal litigation.”
“It also confirms the need for punitive damages to be assessed on a case-by-case basis,” the attorneys said in the statement. “The decision represents a significant step forward in the effort to achieve justice for thousands of Risperdal claimants.”
A spokeswoman for Janssen, Kelsey Buckholtz, said in an emailed statement that the company was pleased that the Superior Court agreed with the decision to reduce the $1.75 million award.
“At the same time, we are disappointed that the court allowed the verdict to stand and will consider our options going forward,” she said.