Jury smacks J&J with $8B Risperdal verdict, but will it stand up in appeals?

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Jurors in Philadelphia hit Johnson & Johnson with an $8 billion verdict over Risperdal, and the company quickly said it'll appeal. (J&J)

Johnson & Johnson's legal battles over opioid drugs and talc products may have made big headlines lately, but Tuesday, it lost big in an entirely different fight.

Jurors in Philadelphia awarded a whopping $8 billion in damages to a young man who developed breasts while taking J&J's antipsychotic drug Risperdal, Reuters reports. The company said it would “immediately (move) to set aside this excessive and unfounded verdict.” 

Multibillion-dollar verdicts typically don't hold up on appeal. But the decision shows how convinced the panel was by allegations that J&J overstepped its bounds in marketing the powerful drug.

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Plaintiff Nicholas Murray sued the company in 2013 alleging his off-label use of Risperdal caused him to develop breasts. Risperdal was approved in 1993 to treat schizophrenia and bipolar mania in adults, but Murray alleged the drugmaker marketed its drug for unapproved uses and didn't adequately warn about its risks.

Murray took the drug for autism spectrum disorder, and Risperdal was approved to treat irritability associated with autism in 2006. J&J in 2013 agreed to pay $2.2 billion to settle a federal off-label marketing probe over the drug. It still faces about 13,400 lawsuits claiming harm from the drug.

J&J maintains the verdict is “grossly disproportionate” to the jury's initial compensatory damages award of $680,000. The punitive damages are a “clear violation of due process," the company said. The Supreme Court has ruled punitive damage awards higher than a double-digit multiplier of the original compensatory award should be set aside, the drugmaker said.

RELATED: J&J to pay $2.2B to wrap up long-standing Risperdal marketing probe 

However the case plays out in appeals, the verdict is a major scare for J&J and investors. Aside from thousands of Risperdal lawsuits, the company faces about 15,500 talc cases and opioid litigation from across the country, among other legal issues. Tuesday’s verdict is even larger than last summer’s $4.69 billion talc verdict after a trial combining the claims of 22 women. J&J has appealed that verdict. 

More recently, a judge in Oklahoma ordered the company to pay $572 million after that state sued the drugmaker for its opioid marketing. J&J again pledged to appeal. 

The company has further moved to settle two cases to avoid an upcoming bellwether opioid trial in Cleveland. In those deals, it’ll pay Ohio’s Cuyahoga and Summit counties a total of $20.4 million.  

RELATED: J&J, with $20M settlement, becomes latest drugmaker to sidestep bellwether opioid trial

Amid the litigation, J&J’s brand reputation has fallen from eighth place in 2014 to 57th this year out of 58 global pharma companies, CityAM reports, citing reputation intelligence firm Alva.  

J&J's shares were down about 1.4% Wednesday morning.

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