Johnson & Johnson is the latest large company ordered to cough up billions in punitive damages

Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay out $8B in damages, the latest massive pharmaceutical company to be charged for bad behavior.


October 10, 2019

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

This week, a jury in Philadelphia ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a staggering $8B in damages to a man in Maryland who says a J&J antipsychotic drug caused him to grow enlarged breasts. His lawsuit is one of 13k that claim the company knowingly downplayed the risk to docs.   

Johnson & Johnson is not the only company on the hook. Also in the waiting room: a few other pharmaceutical companies and heavy hitters like Monsanto.

Punitive damages: not so puny after all 

There are two different types of damages in cases like these — compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are like a reimbursement: the literal value of the injury. With punitive damages, plaintiffs put a dollar amount on the intangibles. They’re basically the guilty party’s punishment. 

The Supreme Court has set the highest legal ratio of punitive to compensatory damages at 4:1. Some juries are ignoring this standard… leaving federal judges to knock down the payouts in the appeals round

So companies are taking (preventative) care to keep this out of the courts

…and not just because hell hath no fury like a jury with the authority to hand out punitive damages. Companies are bending over backward to make settlements work, particularly in cases involving opioids.

That way, they don’t have to admit liability (or — cough, cough — be found guilty) for fueling the opioid crisis. It’s a convenient way of avoiding legal responsibility for the broader consequences of their actions. 

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