Nearly three years after Philadelphia juries awarded compensatory damages in two Risperdal cases, a judge has ordered that the cases proceed to new trials on whether the drugmaker’s conduct merits punitive damages.
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Arnold New has denied drugmaker Janssen Pharmaceuticals’ efforts to block a punitive damages trial in the cases Stange v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Murray v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals. The rulings rejected arguments from the drugmaker that New Jersey law, which does not allow for punitive damages in pharmaceutical cases, applied to the suits.
New denied those requests for summary judgment in separate rulings Sept. 14, and said in both orders that the parties “shall be prepared to discuss the issue of trial scheduling at the next case management conference.”
The rulings come about nine months after the state Superior Court reversed New’s decision to bar the plaintiffs from seeking punitive damages in any of the Risperdal cases. New had previously ruled that New Jersey law applied universally to the Risperdal mass tort in Philadelphia, which is currently home to nearly 6,700 cases. But, in January, the Superior Court said each plaintiff should be given the opportunity to seek to apply the law of their home state when it comes to the issue of punitive damages.
For plaintiff Timothy Stange, whose case resulted in a $500,000 compensatory award in December 2015, that means Wisconsin law will apply regarding his punitive damages claims, and, for plaintiff Nicholas Murray, that means Maryland law will apply. Murray’s case came to a $1.75 million verdict in November 2015, which was later reduced to $680,000.
Kline & Specter attorney Thomas R. Kline, who, along with lawyers from Sheller P.C. and Arnold & Itkin, is a leading attorney in the mass tort program, said New’s rulings “have materially advanced the plaintiffs’ cause.”
“We believe this is a tipping point in this litigation,” Kline said. “We have always steadfastly and wholeheartedly believed that this is a punitive damages case and this ruling by Judge New is a welcome pathway forward to the plaintiffs obtaining a full measure of justice.”
Janssen spokeswoman Kelsey Buckholtz said in an emailed statement, “We are disappointed in the court’s ruling and are continuing to review our options going forward.”
So far, of the five Risperdal cases that have come to verdict, all but one resulted in a finding that alleged inadequacies in the drug’s warning label caused the plaintiff’s injuries. In November, the Superior Court reversed Janssen’s sole defense win, and ordered a new trial in that case.
With causation and compensatory damages already having been determined, the punitive damages trials are expected to focus first on whether Janssen’s conduct warrants punitive damages, and, if the jury finds it does, what amount should be awarded in punitive damages.
Kline said he plans to be personally involved in at least one of the upcoming punitive damages trials, and his team is likely to call former U.S. Food and Drug Administration head David Kessler to testify. He also said the plaintiffs are likely to point to a document, known as Table 21, which he said shows a significant link between Risperdal and the growth of excess breast tissue in young boys, which is the injury the plaintiffs suffered. That table, plaintiffs contend, was never turned over to the FDA.
“At the heart of this is that Janssen not only knew about the correlation and failed to tell doctors about it, but they did the opposite and reassured physicians and the FDA that it was safe and there was no correlation,” Kline said.
Wisconsin law also puts a statutory cap on punitive damages in some cases at $200,000, or twice the amount of compensatory damages. Kline said his team plans to fight the punitive damages cap.