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J&J’s Risperdal Wasn’t Factor in Man’s Diabetes, Jury Rules

Written by Christopher M. Placitella, Esquire

After a long trial a New Jersey jury sided with J&J on medical causation but found against it on the representations about the medical risks to patients.

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, 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 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.

‘Contributing Factor’

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.

The New Jersey case is Skala v. Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), MID- L-6820-06 (MT), Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County (New Brunswick).

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