NEW YORK • Johnson & Johnson's Janssen unit has been hit with a US$8 billion (S$11 billion) punitive damages verdict - the largest jury award in the US this year - over its alleged mishandling of an anti-psychotic drug blamed for causing adolescent boys to grow female-sized breasts.
A state court jury in Philadelphia on Tuesday found that the wrongful marketing by Janssen of its Risperdal drug to teens warranted the punishment award.
This is the first Pennsylvania case in which such damages could be awarded under an appellate ruling.
The award came in the case of Maryland resident Nicholas Murray who began taking Risperdal as a child to help battle autism.
A separate jury awarded Mr Murray US$1.75 million in actual damages in 2015 on his claims that the drug caused him to develop female breasts. That award later was cut to US$680,000 under Maryland law.
The verdict, which is unlikely to be upheld on appeal, may still sound an ominous warning for J&J since it faces more than 13,000 suits over its Risperdal marketing and failure to warn teens about its health risks, according to the company's filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
More than 7,000 of those cases are pending in Philadelphia state court, according to records.
Given the number of trials J&J and Janssen still face in Philadelphia, the US$8 billion verdict may prompt consideration of the setting up of a global settlement of the Risperdal litigation, said law professor Carl Tobias at University of Richmond.
"That type of punitive-damage award will encourage more plaintiffs and their counsel to pursue more cases vigorously. It may make sense to get out now."
J&J officials vowed to appeal the ruling and said the punitive award was excessive compared to the actual-damage figure. The drugmaker also faulted a judge's refusal to allow it to present mitigating evidence about Janssen's handling of the drug.
The company's shares have been under pressure in recent months because of litigation woes spawned by suits alleging its iconic Baby Powder is causing various types of cancers.