Johnson & Johnson is facing billions of dollars in legal setbacks from a host of lawsuits alleging injuries and illnesses from the company’s products.
But there was no talk of that Friday when CEO Alex Gorsky spoke before roughly 1,600 people during the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia’s annual meeting at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Gorsky was in town just days after a Philadelphia jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $8 billion in damages to a man who claimed the company failed to warn that boys using its antipsychotic drug Risperdal could grow breasts. Gorsky spoke for a half hour, answering questions from D’Arcy Rudnay, chief communications officer for Comcast. Rudnay never asked Gorsky about the Philadelphia verdict or other costly lawsuits. Gorsky never brought them up.
Instead, Gorsky spoke about his time at West Point, the future of health care, and his role in getting the Business Roundtable, a group of chief executives from nearly 200 large companies, to abandon the idea that companies must prioritize shareholders above all else.
“Philadelphia, absolutely, has the potential to be the Silicon Valley of health care,” he said at one point, a remark met with applause.
Johnson & Johnson, headquartered in New Brunswick, N.J., is battling hefty verdicts and settlements over allegations that it played down the danger of its drugs and that its products caused injuries and illnesses. An Oklahoma judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million in August for wrongfully marketing opioid drugs as states battle a public health crisis fueled by the widespread abuse of the painkillers. Last week, the company agreed to pay $20.4 million to settle allegations in Ohio that it fueled opioid addiction in the state.
At least 47,600 people died from opioid overdoses in 2017, including 17,000 from prescription opioids, according to federal data. Philadelphia has had the highest overdose rate of any big city in the U.S.
Last year, a St. Louis jury hit the company with a $4.7 billion verdict after 22 women claimed that asbestos in its baby powder caused their ovarian cancer.
Johnson & Johnson has vowed to appeal the $572 million Oklahoma verdict and has denied that its talc products cause cancer.
In Philadelphia, juries have ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay tens of millions of dollars to women who said its vaginal mesh implants caused severe injuries. In April, an Altoona woman was awarded $120 million after she claimed a J&J subsidiary, Ethicon, was negligent in the design of its TVT-O device, a strip of plastic mesh that had eroded into her vagina.
The $8 billion verdict on Tuesday stemmed from a case brought by Nicholas Murray, a Maryland resident who “developed female breast tissue” after taking Risperdal, according to court records. In handing down an unusually large punitive-damages award, the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury agreed that Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, engaged in what Murray’s lawyers called a “pervasive nationwide effort to illegally market Risperdal and downplay its very serious risks on a systemic level.”
Johnson & Johnson said it would “immediately” appeal the verdict, calling it “grossly disproportionate” to the initial compensatory award of $1.75 million in 2015, which a judge later reduced to $680,000.
The Philadelphia chamber invited reporters to the meeting on Tuesday, hours before the jury handed down the verdict. But on Wednesday, a chamber spokesperson reversed course and said the media could not attend the event. By Thursday, however, the chamber said the press was, in fact, allowed to cover the breakfast and apologized for the “confusion.”
Liz Ferry, the chamber’s vice president for state legislative affairs, said Johnson & Johnson’s rough week didn’t play a role in the invite, un-invite, and subsequent re-invite.
“It was really just us not getting our ducks in a row,” she said.