SC jury finds J&J letter violated consumer laws

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) failed to persuade a South Carolina jury that a now notorious "Risperdal letter" did not violate consumer protection statutes. Jurors decided that J&J's Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals' 2003 letter to doctors, which depicted the antipsychotic drug as more effective and safer than its rivals, was "unfair and deceptive" under state law. They also decided the drug's warning label was deceptive, Bloomberg reports.

The state had sued the J&J unit, taking issue with the company's marketing efforts and alleging that government programs were deluded into paying hundreds millions of dollars for Risperdal. Janssen has fought several similar suits in court, winning dismissal of Pennsylvania's claims and suffering a $257 million jury verdict in Louisiana. The company faces seven more state lawsuits, Bloomberg says.

South Carolina is asking for $360 million in damages, in an award to be determined by the judge now that the jury has delivered its verdict. "The verdict they handed down is just and speaks the truth," John White, a lawyer representing the state, told Bloomberg.

Not surprisingly, the company was displeased with the jury's decision. "We are disappointed," J&J spokesman Greg Panico told the news service. "Janssen acted responsibly and believes it did not violate" state law. In addition to the state claims, J&J faces a whistleblower suit, joined by the Justice Department, alleging that it paid kickbacks to boost Risperdal prescriptions.

- see the coverage from Bloomberg