A recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Superior Court may substantially change the future of litigation over Risperdal, the anti-psychotic drug linked to gynecomastia, the growth of female-like breasts in boys and male adolescents. A panel of the court decided to allow juries to consider punitive damages in trials over the medication made by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a division of Johnson & Johnson. The decision will require re-evaluation of cases already tried and could mean potentially larger verdicts in those still coming to trial. It may also encourage J&J to settle many or all of the thousands of pending cases. Without the threat of punitive damages, the giant corporation faced the prospect of only compensatory jury awards.

“The stakes in any mass tort are raised when punitive damages are recoverable,” Tom Kline, founding partner of Kline & Specter, PC, told The Legal Intelligencer following the ruling. “This thoughtful and thorough opinion will now provide guidance for the entire litigation moving forward.”

The ruling stemmed from a case tried by Kline and Chris Gomez to a $500,000 jury verdict. It involved the case of Timothy Stange, who had taken Risperdal to help control symptoms of Tourette syndrome.

Kline argued at trial that Janssen had been aware of the risks of the drug to cause excess breast tissue growth but failed to adequately warn doctors or patients of the possible harm. Stange was awarded $500,000 but the jury was not permitted to consider punitive damages. (Kline and Gomez earlier won a $2.5 million verdict for a young Alabama man, also with no punitive damages allowed.)

The Superior Court’s 42-page opinion ruled that the trial judge should have applied the law from Stange’s home state of Wisconsin, which does permit limited punitive damages. The judge instead considered only statutes from Pennsylvania or New Jersey, the latter being J&J’s principal place of business.

There is no cure for gynecomastia; removal can only be accomplished through a mastectomy.

Kline & Specter has handled numerous cases of product liability, including those involving various medications. The firm, currently with 41 attorneys, five of whom are highly skilled medical doctors, has the experience and expertise to handle drug and other product liability cases.