SC judge upholds $327M fine in Risperdal 'doctor letter' case

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) has failed to shake the $327 million verdict in a highly publicized Risperdal marketing suit. It's the infamous "doctor letter" case, in which South Carolina officials won a $4,000 fine for each copy sent to a doctor in that state. Judge Roger Couch in Spartanburg, SC, let the civil penalties stand, denying the company's motions to overturn or amend the verdict, or to order a new trial altogether.

The letter in question touted J&J's antipsychotic drug Risperdal, saying it triggered fewer side effects than competing drugs, the state alleged. A jury decided that the company's marketing violated South Carolina's Unfair Trade Practices Act, and Couch ordered J&J's Janssen unit to pay the $327 million in damages.

In his order, Couch said Janssen should have strengthened warnings on Risperdal's label, the Spartanburg Herald-Journal reports. Instead, the company downplayed study data that pointed to the drug's risks and "hid the results until 2009."

A Janssen spokesman told the Herald-Journal that the company will appeal Couch's rulings. "The company acted responsibly and believes it did not violate the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act," spokesman Mark Wolfe told the paper. "We do not believe the ruling can be upheld on appeal."

The South Carolina case is just one of the Risperdal lawsuits J&J still faces. A number of states have suits still pending, and two whistle-blower cases joined by the federal government are in process. The company disclosed earlier this year that it has agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, but a final settlement with the Justice Department hasn't been announced. On the state level, a Medicaid fraud suit in Louisiana resulted in a $258 million fine, which J&J is appealing. A Texas suit, set for trial next month, seeks more than $1 billion in damages.

- read the Herald-Journal piece