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Risperdal Defense Verdict Overturned Due to “Erroneous Evidentiary Rulings”

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Philadelphia, PAThere are further details available as to the reversal, earlier this month of a Risperidal side effects defense verdict originally delivered in a Risperdal case from 2015. The finding for the defense also served to deny the plaintiff of any chance for a new trial. Thanks to the findings of a judiciary panel of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania on November 13, not only is the original defense verdict vacated, but the plaintiff will get a new trial after all.

The Risperdal gynecomastia trial will focus solely on causation, and damages.

The plaintiff, identified variously using the initials ‘W.C.’ has since been revealed as William Cirba, according to the Pennsylvania Record (11/16/17). Cirba launched a Risperdal lawsuit against Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson that manufacturers risperidone (Risperdal), alleging the drug he was prescribed for the treatment of oppositional defiant disorder was responsible for growth of male breast tissue, known medically as gynecomastia.

In March, 2015 a jury in a lower court returned a verdict in favor of Janssen, influenced largely by the testimony of a doctor’s assistant who opined as an expert witness that in her view Cirba’s gynecomastia was the result of “extreme weight gain,” rather than any association involving Risperdal and growing male breasts. Stopping short of finding Janssen directly responsible for the plaintiff’s gynecomastia, the jury nonetheless found that Janssen had, indeed failed to warn Cirba and his physicians as to the risk for male breast growth associated with use of risperidone. In the end, however the jury found for the defense.

Cirba appealed, in part based on the testimony of the doctor’s assistant. While working directly with Cirba and nonetheless conversant with his medical history and situation, Michelle Baker’s function remained that as a physician assistant, rather than a qualified medical doctor and – as such – should not have had her testimony weighted with the same authority and merit as that of a trained, and qualified physician. Janssen, in defending the March, 2015 jury finding and verdict for the defense, felt that Baker’s opinions introduced at trial by way of video “constituted permissible lay opinion testimony, as it was rationally based on her perception of plaintiff during treatment.”
However, the judiciary panel didn’t agree. In a unanimous ruling authored by Superior Court Judge Jack Panella, the three-judge panel reversed the lower court’s ruling based on “erroneous evidentiary rulings.

“Defendants’ experts opined that weight gain rather than Risperdal ingestion caused plaintiff to appear to have gynecomastia. Baker’s testimony, in which she opined that plaintiff’s weight gain, rather than his Risperdal usage, caused him to appear to have gynecomastia, was the only causation testimony offered by a witness who personally treated plaintiff,” Panella said, as reported by the Pennsylvania Record.

Baker’s opinion was “offered without the proper vetting and safeguards surrounding expert testimony. Further, this opinion was introduced into evidence due to the trial court’s improper application of the law, which is clearly an abuse of discretion. Therefore, we find that the trial court abused its discretion in denying plaintiff’s request for a new trial, limited to the issues of causation and damages.”

There are currently in excess of 6,400 Risperdal side effects lawsuits consolidated in Philadelphia’s Complex Litigation Center.

The case is: In re Risperdal Litigation (W.C. v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals., Inc.), 2017 BL 406075 in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, No. 2451 EDA 2015.


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