After being hit with six of the seven largest product-defect verdicts in 2016, Johnson & Johnson could fare even worse in 2017 thanks to a growing number of cases and trials set in the coming months.
The pharmaceutical giant could face at least 17 trials in state and federal courts across the country this year from plaintiffs blaming products made by Johnson & Johnson for injuries and deaths, according to Bloomberg. On top of that, the company faces more than 100,000 cases that are expected to keep growing.
Although that amount of pending cases isn’t atypical for pharmaceutical companies, the mounting verdicts against Johnson & Johnson are unusual and may be affecting the company’s growth.
Last year, the company was hit with a $1 billion verdict and $502 million verdict over selling defective metal-on-metal Pinnacle hip implants. Both of those were eventually reduced by a judge after the trial. Johnson & Johnson was also hit with a $70 million verdict related to its antipsychotic drug Risperdal.
Jason McGorman, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence, said to Bloomberg that the company has $42 billion on hand but that the ballooning caseload, recalls and lack of innovation are preventing growth.
“I think that has been part of what has weighed on J&J’s shares the past few years,” McGorman says.
On top of the financial implications, the verdicts against Johnson & Johnson not only affect the reputation of the company but also might encourage others to file lawsuits.
When a defendant like Johnson & Johnson loses a trial, it usually causes plaintiffs to drop their cases and discourages others from filing new ones. However, when plaintiffs win, it often has the opposite effect, resulting in more lawsuits and associated costs.
J&J Faces Trials for Xarelto and Vaginal Mesh
Some of the cases Johnson & Johnson faces this year are over blood thinner Xarelto. Plaintiffs allege that the drug can cause uncontrollable bleeding and that Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, falsely marketed the drug as safe.
According to Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Samantha Gilham, the company disputes the claims in the suits and is fighting them.
The first trials are set to take place in April after they were rescheduled. The four trials act as bellwether trials to give an indication as to how the other pending cases should be handled by both sides. More than 15,000 lawsuits have been filed in the Xarelto multidistrict litigation.
In December, the company also lost an appeal to throw out an $11.1 million award given South Dakota woman over claims that the company’s vaginal mesh gave her unexpected side effects.
Roughly 55,000 claims related to Johnson & Johnson’s vaginal mesh are pending in courts across the country.
Spike in Mass Tort Attributed to Risperdal
The mass tort program of Risperdal has also contributed to the rise in Johnson & Johnson cases. According to The Legal Intelligencer, Risperdal cases in Philadelphia grew by nearly 40 percent in 2016. Experts expect an inventory to rise above 2,000.
Part of the increase is related to Janssen’s decision to end a tolling agreement after a Philadelphia jury awarded $70 million to a man in July over his Risperdal-related injuries. Risperdal is blamed for causing male breast tissue to enlarge.
Jessica Castles Smith, a spokeswoman for Janssen, told the media outlet that it plans to defend its drug.
“We do not have insight into plaintiffs’ choices regarding when and where they initiate lawsuits,” Castles Smith said in an emailed statement. “What we do know is that Risperdal, when used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, continues to help millions of patients with mental illnesses and neurodevelopment conditions.”
Many mass tort cases are taking longer to be disposed of. Most of the Risperdal cases in Philadelphia’s Complex Litigation Center were filed in 2013, which is longer than the two years the American Bar Association recommends for case disposal.
Thomas R. Kline, of Kline & Specter, one of the attorneys leading the litigation for Risperdal, has blamed the longer timeframe of mass torts on the rise in lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson. He told The Legal Intelligencer that if the number of Risperdal cases continues to grow in Philadelphia, he will ask for administrative changes to move things along.
“The older the inventory becomes, the more significant a problem it is for the courts, but an even greater problem for the clients awaiting justice,” Kline said. “The court is obliged not to throw up its hands, but roll up its sleeves, which [Supervising Judge Arnold New] will ably do, I’m sure.”