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On January 9, 2018, a three-judge Superior Court panel handed down a decision that could significantly change the landscape of the Philadelphia Risperdal Docket. The three-judge panel ruled that plaintiffs in the Philadelphia cases may apply the law of their home state to seek punitive damages.

Previously, plaintiffs were prevented from raising punitive damages. Johnson and Johnson (J&J) is headquartered in New Jersey and the court had previously applied New Jersey law which barred punitive damages.

According to J & J, “[they] are disappointed in the Court’s ruling and will consider [their] options going forward. Contrary to the impression plaintiffs’ attorneys have attempted to create over the course of this litigation, Risperdal (risperidone) is an important FDA-approved medicine that, when used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, continues to help millions of patients with mental illnesses and neurodevelopmental conditions,” there was no comment released by Janssen defense counsel.

This pivotal decision is arguably very important for a few reasons:

First, this provides all Risperdal plaintiffs (including future plaintiffs) a new weapon that could help not just litigation wise but also as a bargaining chip in trying to settle cases. One can argue that J & J quite possibly could be more open to settlement negotiation now that more than 6,000 punitive swords are pointing at them.

Second, this ruling raises the stake and will make J&J rethink about their long term strategy as the threat of punitive awards against J & J in other mass torts in 2016-2017 have amounted to over 800 million dollars. Currently, more than 6,000 cases are pending in the Philadelphia Risperdal docket. Tom Kline of Kline & Specter says “stakes in these cases will be raised now that the prospect of punitive damages is in play.” Potential verdicts have exponentially risen to unknown amounts.

Third, the new rule also applies retroactively to past Risperdal verdicts. To date, there have been eight Risperdal trials with plaintiffs winning four and the defense winning the other four. Past verdicts for the plaintiffs have been in the amount ranging from $500,000 to $70 million. Those verdicts could multiply and balloon to tremendous amounts in light of the new rule.

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