PA Appeals Court Opens Door for Punitive Damages in Risperdal Litigation

 

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has opened the door for plaintiffs in the Risperdal mass tort to seek possible punitive damages. The ruling significantly raises the stakes of the litigation, which currently involves more than 6,000 pending cases in Philadelphia.

A three-judge Superior Court panel ruled Monday that plaintiffs may seek to have the law of their home state apply to their case when it comes to the question of whether they should be allowed to seek punitive damages at trial. The ruling reversed a decision that had applied New Jersey law to the litigation globally. The Garden State’s products liability law specifically prohibits punitive damages.

The ruling, which was outlined in a 42-page opinion in Stange v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, did not hold that punitive damages needed to apply in the case, but it said the trial judge should have considered whether to apply Wisconsin law, which is the law of plaintiff Timothy Stange’s home state.

“The trial court only considered whether New Jersey or Pennsylvania law should apply, not the law of the individual plaintiff’s home state,” Superior Court Judge Kate Ford Elliott said. “We agree with Stange that it is necessary to remand for the trial court to allow Stange to develop an individual record on choice-of-law as it relates to his unique circumstances and to set out the facts and state interests important to his particular case.”

According to Kline & Specter attorney Thomas R. Kline, who is a lead attorney in the litigation, the Superior Court’s decision will require the cases that have already been tried to be re-evaluated for punitive damages. He said he expects the new analysis will lead courts to apply the law of each plaintiff’s home state, which means the cases already tried will be sent back for a new trial specifically on the amount of punitive damages.

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