J&J, Janssen Must Face Retrial in Risperdal Suit

Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Johnson & Johnson and unit Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. must face a retrial in a young man’s suit alleging their anti-psychotic drug Risperdal caused him to develop female-like breasts.

W.C. appealed denial of a new trial after a jury in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas found that the defendants didn’t adequately warn about the risk of gynecomastia (female-like breast development) in pre-pubescent males, but that Risperdal didn’t cause his enlarged chest.

The trial court incorrectly allowed a physician’s assistant who had treated W.C. to testify as an expert concerning what caused his gynecomastia, the Pennsylvania Superior Court said.

This error entitles him to a new trial on causation and damages, the appeals court said.

J&J and Janssen argued Michelle Baker’s testimony constituted permissible lay opinion testimony. It was rationally based on her perception of W.C. during treatment, they said.

However, the trial court allowed testimony that crossed the line from fact to expert, the appeals court said. Baker testified that rapid weight gain, not Risperdal, caused W.C.’s enlarged breasts because he had stopped taking Risperdal some years before, so levels of a hormone associated with breast growth and believed to be affected by Risperdal would have returned to normal.

To reach this conclusion, Baker had to draw upon specialized medical knowledge about the effect of Risperdal on the hormone prolactin, the court said.

Baker’s opinion was offered without the proper vetting and safeguards surrounding expert testimony, and was the only causation testimony offered at trial by a witness who had personally treated W.C., the court said.W.C.’s suit is part of a mass tort proceeding in Philadelphia, which now numbers about
6,400 cases. Four previous Risperdal trials in that proceeding have yielded verdicts ranging from $500,000 to $76 million.

The Risperdal litigation is centered in Philadelphia, but a federal jury in New York awarded $1 million in September to a man who alleged the drug caused his gynecomastia.

J&J and Janssen have appealed all the verdicts.

The companies face suits by 13,900 Risperdal plaintiffs, according to a Nov. 2 securities filing.

Kline & Specter, P.C. and others represented W.C.

Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP, Dechert, LLP, and Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP represented the defendants.

The case is: In re Risperdal Litig. (W.C. v. Janssen Pharm., Inc.), 2017 BL 406075, Pa. Super. Ct., No. 2451 EDA 2015, 11/13/17

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie A. Steinberg in Washington at jsteinberg@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com