Lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson (J&J) continued to increase in 2016, with new complaints filed over a mix of household items, drugs, and medical devices including Johnson’s Baby Powder, the DePuy and Pinnacle hip implants, the blood thinner Xarelto, and the antipsychotic Risperdal—a drug which now accounts for over 15,000 pending claims against the company.
Until recently, J&J’s strategy with many of these cases has been to go to trial rather than settle—a tactic that could be taking its toll, as it resulted in some of the largest jury verdicts of 2016. Juries awarded almost $200 million to talc users with ovarian cancer and $1.5 billion to individuals with failing artificial hips. One of the largest single verdicts against the company last year was for $70 million—handed down in July to a young Tennessee boy who claimed that taking Risperdal caused gynecomastia or the formation of female breast tissue.
J&J and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, could be changing their approach for 2017. On January 9, just three days before another Risperdal case was to go to trial in Philadelphia, J&J agreed to a confidential settlement with the plaintiff—a New York boy who also suffered serious side effects while taking the drug. Ultimately, J&J has defended the settlement as an isolated decision rather than an indication of how remaining cases might be handled. Court documents show more than 2,000 lawsuits still pending as part of a mass tort litigation in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas—where the $70 million verdict was awarded last year.
J&J should be concerned with a continuous pattern of plaintiffs’ jury verdicts in Philadelphia Risperdal trials. Several additional Risperdal trials are scheduled for the first half of 2017, and more trials involving multiple plaintiff firms are to be set for trial by the end of the year. This is on top of additional trials scheduled in St. Louis over its cancer-causing baby powder claims.
The results of these upcoming trials will have a significant impact on the prospects for settlement.
Derek T. Braslow is a partner of Pogust Braslow & Millrood, LLC. He is one of the first attorneys to file suit on behalf of families who lost a child, spouse or parent to suicide as a result of psychotropic medication and one of the first to file a suit against investigators, sponsors and institutional review boards for conducting unethical human clinical trials. Derek was voted by his colleagues as a Rising Star and SuperLawyer in the area of Pharmaceutical and Mass Tort litigation.