(Updates in 10th paragraph with J&J comment.)
Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Johnson & Johnson’s anti-psychotic drug Risperdal wasn’t a substantial factor in causing a Nebraska man’s diabetes, even though J&J failed to adequately warn his doctor about the drug’s risks, a New Jersey jury ruled.
Jurors in state court in New Brunswick, where J&J is based, today found by a 5-1 vote that the company didn’t adequately warn the doctor for Gary Skala of the risk of diabetes. Because they ruled 5-1 against Skala, 56, on the causation question, they didn’t award him any damages.
Skala’s lawsuit was the first of more than 400 personal- injury lawsuits over Risperdal to go to trial. J&J lawyers said the company properly warned of the drug’s risks after its introduction in 1994. They said Skala was an obese “couch potato” whose disease was caused by his weight, heavy drinking, sedentary lifestyle and other risks, not Risperdal.
“Doctors used the medicine because it worked,” J&J attorney Jeffrey Peck told jurors yesterday in his closing argument. “In this case, Dr. Skala’s doctors prescribed it and it saved his life.”
Skala, who has chronic major depression, first took Risperdal in 1996 after attempting suicide by taking an overdose of anti-anxiety medicine, said Peck. He later drank as many as 10 beers a day, and anxiety, stress, sleep problems and family history contributed to his diabetes, Peck said. Skala, who is 5- feet, 8-inches tall, weighed as much as 240 pounds, Peck said.
An attorney for Skala, Fletch Trammell, argued to jurors that Risperdal was a “substantial contributing factor” in his diabetes by helping to cause his obesity. While the drug may have helped his mental illness, Trammell said, J&J’s Janssen unit failed to warn Skala’s doctor of the diabetes risk.
“We’re not suing them for helping him with depression, we’re suing them for giving him diabetes,” Trammell said in his closing arguments yesterday. “Risperdal can be a good drug, but they still have to warn you about the safety risk.”
Trammell said he was disappointed with the verdict, which he called a “Pyrrhic victory.”
“It’s just a reflection of the way that people who are mentally ill live, and it’s a judgment on his lifestyle,” Trammell said.
Teresa Mueller, a spokeswoman for J&J, the world’s second- biggest health-products company, said in an e-mail: “We are pleased with the jury’s decision to reject the plaintiff’s claims. Since the early 1990s, Risperdal has improved the lives of countless people throughout the world who suffer from debilitating mental illnesses.”
J&J has faced other legal challenges over Risperdal, which was once its best-selling drug. On Jan. 19, it ended a trial in Austin, Texas, agreeing to pay $158 million to settle claims by the state attorney general and a whistle-blower that it fraudulently marketed Risperdal.
J&J has agreed to pay more than $1 billion to the U.S. and a number of states to end a civil investigation into Risperdal marketing practices, Bloomberg News reported on Jan. 6, citing people familiar with the matter. The settlement hasn’t been made public.
In June, a South Carolina judge ordered J&J to pay $327 million after a jury found the drugmaker liable for damages over its Risperdal marketing. The drugmaker vowed to appeal that award.
The company also lost a Risperdal case in Louisiana in October 2010, where on top of a $257.7 million jury award, a judge ordered the company to pay $73.3 million in attorneys’ fees and costs.
A Pennsylvania judge threw out the state’s case against J&J and Janssen in June 2010. J&J and Janssen also have been sued over their Risperdal marketing by Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Utah. The Arkansas case is set for trial in March.
The New Jersey case is Skala v. Johnson & Johnson, MID- L-6820-06 (MT), Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County (New Brunswick).
--With assistance from Jef Feeley in Wilmington, Delaware, and Margaret Cronin Fisk in Southfield, Michigan. Editors: Peter Blumberg, Glenn Holdcraft
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