A jury in Philadelphia this week ruled drugmaker Johnson & Johnson to pay $2.5 million in compensatory damages to a young Alabama man over allegations the company had promoted the “off label” use of its antipsychotic drug, Risperdal, in turn resulting in hormonal side effects, like developing large breasts.
The decision marks the first from a jury, but thousands of similar lawsuits are waiting in the wings.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, says he expects Johnson & Johnson to appeal, but he doesn’t expect to see hundreds of future cases play out in court. Instead, the results of these initial cases will likely help determine whether or not the drugmaker pursues future cases or reaches a larger settlement.
“A lot hinges on those first trials, which are often called bellwethers to give guidance to the judges and the litigants and the lawyers about how these cases may come out,” said Tobias.
The practice of prescribing drugs off label (not for its FDA approved use) is common. What’s illegal is if the drug company promotes that in any way. Johnson & Johnson and its Pennsylvania based subsidiary, Janssen, have denied any wrongdoing with Risperdal.
The FDA approved the drug for adults with schizophrenia in the 1990s and then later approved it for kids in 2006.
In 2013, Johnson & Johnson paid out $2.2 billion to settle state and federal criminal charges related to the illegal marketing of Risperdal to children and seniors.