The judge presiding over a case which saw Johnson & Johnson hit with an $8bn jury verdict has reduced the amount the company has to pay in damages to $6.8m.
Last October, J&J was ordered to pay $8bn in damages to a US man who claims he was not warned that taking the company’s antipsychotic Risperdal could lead to breast growth.
A jury in Philadelphia agreed with the allegation that J&J’s Janssen unit had downplayed the risk that use of Risperdal (risperidone) in male children can cause enlarged breasts, a condition known as gynaecomastia.
J&J said at the time that it would appeal the verdict, which comes from just one of thousands of lawsuits claiming damages for gynaecomastia caused by Risperdal, and said the size of the payout was “grossly disproportionate”.
It also said it had been prevented from presenting “key evidence” to the jury that would have shown how Risperdal’s label outlined the risks of the drug.
In a statement, a spokesman for Janssen said the “court has appropriately reduced the excessive punitive damages award". Nevertheless, he maintained that the exclusion of the "key evidence" would be grounds for another appeal.
The lawsuit was filed by 26-year-old Nicholas Murray, who started taking Risperdal as a child in 2003 after being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Risperdal isn’t approved for that use, but was prescribed off-label – something that is legal based on physician judgment.
Murray was originally awarded $1.75m in damages in 2015, but that was reduced to $680,000 after an appeal last year that upheld the original verdict.
J&J says the award for a single plaintiff “is a clear violation of due process [and] US Supreme Court precedent dictates that punitive damages awards that are a double-digit multiplier of the compensatory award should be set aside”.
Risperdal’s link to gynaecomastia is well established, and the lawsuits against J&J pivot on whether the company failed to warn of the risks and inappropriately marketed the drug for off-label use in children.
Risperdal-associated breast growth generally goes away after a person discontinues use of the drug, although some cases do not resolve despite stopping treatment.
Thomas R. Kline, a lawyer who is part of the legal team representing Murray, along with more than 10,000 people in similar lawsuits, said the reduced verdict “provides essentially no punishment for the worst of the worst of corporate misconduct”.
J&J has been hit with serial lawsuits claiming damages in the last few years, with cases involving asbestos in talc, hip replacement and vaginal mesh products, and opioid drugs all working their way through the courts.
Last August, the company was ordered to pay $572m following a legal verdict which found it responsible for fuelling the opioid crisis in the US state of Oklahoma, and last month J&J agreed a $20m settlement of similar allegations in Ohio.