Jury hears if drug caused boy to grow enlarged breasts

Steve Tawa
January 29, 2019 - 4:49 pm

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A Philadelphia jury is hearing a lawsuit brought by a now 23-year-old man who claims taking drug maker Janssen's product made him grow embarrassing, abnormal breasts when he was younger. It's the first case in the country to allow "punitive" damages, if the jury finds in favor of the plaintiff. 

When attorney Jason Itkin began addressing jurors, he showed them a photo of Michael Herman as a child. Then, he pointed, "these are female breasts. They're on a 9-year-old boy."

He explained it's a condition called gynecomastia, which occurred after taking the blockbuster antipsychotic drug Risperdal for nearly eight years. 

Itkin contends the company was aware its drug caused abnormal breast growth, but the information was hidden from doctors and patients. Itkin claims Janssen's conduct was "intentional and outrageous" by seeking "profit and sales" over proper warnings to physicians and families.

Janssen lawyer Ethel Johnson told jurors to pay attention to the evidence, not sympathy. She contends the doctor and the Herman family were fully informed of potential side effects. She said Michael Herman was diagnosed with numerous serious mental illnesses as a child, and the doctor who prescribed it thought it was "appropriate, and it gave Michael a better life." 

She added Michael Herman "struggled with obesity since childhood, had delayed puberty, was treated with many other drugs before and after Risperdal, all of which have side effects, and he had his most dramatic weight gains after ending Risperdal use." She said those conditions, in combination, could have led to enlarged breasts.

Johnson also was emphatic to jurors, saying, "No one is hiding anything — it's all there." She noted the warning label as early as 2001, when he started taking the drug.

A handful of previous cases in Philadelphia, all of which are consolidated here, resulted in compensatory awards between $500,000 and $2.5 million, until a $76 million jury verdict awarded a man in 2016 for causing emotional distress.