It is the first of thousands of such cases nationwide to get a jury verdict Austin Pledger, 20, who has autism, grew breasts after being prescribed Risperdal for autism, lawsuit says

By Nicole Weisensee Egan
Updated February 26, 2015 09:00 AM
Benita Pledger

A Philadelphia Common Pleas jury Tuesday awarded $2.5 million in damages to an Alabama man with autism who took the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal as a teen and grew size 46DD breasts, according to Thomas Kline, the man’s attorney.

“This trial is important publicly because it provided for the first time a window into the real risks of the drug,” Kline told the Philadelphia Daily News.

It is the first of thousands of such cases nationwide – 1,200 are pending in the Philadelphia court alone – to get a jury verdict, Kline tells PEOPLE.

His client, Austin Pledger, now 20, of Thorsby, Alabama, was ruled incapacitated by the courts, so his mother, Benita Pledger, testified about the impact instead, he says.

“The testimony of his mother before the jury is he would smash them on a table,” he says. “And that when he gets out of the shower he covers himself in a towel before he looks at himself in a mirror.”

A spokeswoman for the drug’s manufacturer, Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, sent PEOPLE a news release saying the company is “disappointed” in the decision and is considering all its options, including appeals.

“We firmly believe this verdict should be overturned,” the statement said. “Risperdal has improved the lives of countless children and adults throughout the world.”

Furthermore, the company says the drug has labels that detail the side effects, and Pledger’s physician was aware of them as well.

But Kline says Pledger’s mother did not know about the risks when he began taking it in 2002 at age 8 to deal with the irritability associated with autism. The drug was not approved for children and adolescents until late 2006.

“She had no idea that it was associated with the growing of female breasts,” he says. “Austin is among the most vulnerable and precious in our world.”

Austin’s doctor, Jay Mathisen, testified he was unaware gynecomastia, the name of the condition, could result from use of the drug, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Austin can only get rid of his breasts with a mastectomy, Kline says, which he has not yet done.

“He has only now been through his teenage years,” he says. “These decisions are difficult and even more so when the child is frail, like Austin, so his mom has been very slow and patient.”

Meanwhile, Austin is “most proud of his facial hair” because he wants to be like his dad, Kline says, though every day he sees “that he is like his mom.”