A 26-year-old man has been awarded a huge payout after the drugs he took for autism spectrum disorder as a child made him grow breasts.
Earlier this month Nicholas Murray of Maryland in the US won a landmark case against Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson (J&J) subsidiary, when a jury ruled that the pharma giant award him $8 billion (R120 billion) in damages, according to Reuters.
The antipsychotic drug Risperdal is at the centre of the lawsuit, with the plaintiff’s attorneys arguing that it’s linked to the abnormal growth of female breast tissue in boys, an incurable condition known as gynecomastia.
The rare side effect of the popular psychiatric drug is believed to occur because of an increase in a hormone called prolactin, according to the Child Mind Institute, a non-profit organisation focused on improving the lives of children struggling with mental health and learning disorders.
Prolactin is best known for its role in enabling mammals, usually females, to produce milk.
Nicholas initially sued the company in 2013, alleging that he grew breasts after he began using Risperdal in 2003 at age 9, to treat symptoms of autism.
The lawsuit also alleges that J&J was aware of the risk of this side effect but understated the risk to doctors who failed to properly warn their patients.
Nicholas’ lawyers, Tom Kline and Jason Itkin, said in a statement that the “jury told Johnson & Johnson that its actions were deliberate and malicious”.
“The conduct the jury saw in the courtroom was clear and convincing, that J&J disregarded the safety of the most vulnerable of children. This is an important moment, not only for this litigation, but for J&J, which is a company that has lost its way.”
More than 13 000 lawsuits have been filed over the drug, but Murray’s is the first in which a jury decided to award punitive damages and came up with an amount.
J&J blasted the ruling as “grossly disproportionate” in a statement posted on their website. The company, which is estimated to be worth nearly $400 billion (around R6 trillion), says they’re confident that they can overturn the “excessive and unfounded verdict”.
But Nicholas’ victory is the latest in a series of costly legal setbacks for them.
In August this year, an Oklahoma judge ordered the company to pay $572 million (R8,5 billion) for contributing to the US state’s opioid-addiction crisis.
Last year, a jury in St. Louis ordered J&J to pay $4,69 billion (R71 billion) in damages to 22 women and their families who blamed ovarian-cancer on the use of the company’s baby powder.