Defense gets fourth win in the four Xarelto bellwether trials
By Mark York (January 11, 2018)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) The December 2017 Xarelto jury verdict of $27.8 million awarded to an Indiana couple, was overturned earlier this week, when the trial judge vacated the verdict. The plaintiffs had accused Bayer AG and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, of failing to warn of internal bleeding risks of their drug Xarelto.
Judge Michael Erdos, Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, heard arguments on January 9, 2018 in a motion hearing to reverse the December verdict, which was the first defense trial loss in litigation over the Xarelto blood thinner, and also the first trial outside the Xarelto MDL 2592, (see XARELTO MDL 2592 US District Court ED Louisiana briefcase) in front of Judge Eldon Fallon, US District Court of Louisiana.
Judge Erdos issued his ruling from the bench after the hearing on defense motions for a new trial or alternatively, for a judgement notwithstanding the verdict, and at the close of a full day of arguments stating, “a new trial is not necessary because plaintiff did not adequately demonstrate responsible cause,” and he then entered judgement for the defendants.
“J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc and Bayer, which jointly developed Xarelto, welcomed the decision and issued statements saying they will continue to defend against the allegations in all Xarelto litigation, with a total of more than 20,000 pending lawsuits now in both state and federal Xarelto dockets.
Bayer stated “Bayer stands behind the safety and efficacy of Xarelto and will continue to vigorously defend it.”
The December 5, 2017 verdict came in a lawsuit filed by Lynn Hartman, who was prescribed Xarelto as treatment for an irregular heartbeat also known as atrial fibrillation, to prevent strokes. The testimony and opinions of Ms. Hartman’s treating physician and views on continued willingness to prescribe Xarelto, had a significant impact on the final ruling to overturn the verdict by Judge Erdos.
Hartman claimed she was prescribed the drug for a little more than a year, starting in February 2013, and was hospitalized with severe gastrointestinal bleeding in June 2014, at age 72, with the bleed attributed to taking Xarelto. The court record reflected that Ms. Hartman has since recovered from the hospitalization.
Lynn Hartman and her husband filed their complaint against the drugmakers in 2015, (see XARELTO Case No. 2349 Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas briefcase) with the six week trial starting the first week of November 2017, resulting in the jury awarding $1.8 million in compensatory damages and $26 million in punitive damages. This verdict was seen as a high note for plaintiff counsel in the Xarelto litigation, after three prior trial losses, in Xarelto MDL 2592 bellwether trials in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The Hartman trial is just one of about 21,400 against Bayer and Janssen pending in federal and state courts blaming injuries on Xarelto, and the first selected for trial from more than 1,400 Xarelto cases pending in the Complex Litigation docket of the Philadelphia court.
Plaintiff trial counsel Michael Weinkowitz, said the decision related to a “very narrow issue related to Mrs. Hartman’s prescribing physician.” He said he looked forward to trying the next series of Xarelto-related cases in Philadelphia. The post trial legal arguments were related to the “learned intermediary doctrine and proximate cause” and was raised by defense in post trial motions and aggressively argued, which plaintiff counsel was unable to overcome in the full day hearing.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Xarelto in 2011, to be prescribed for people with atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm disorder, and to treat and reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms, often after implant surgeries.
Plaintiffs in the Hartman trial as well as in thousands of other Xarelto lawsuits, alleged that the drug was unreasonably dangerous and that Janssen (J&J) and Bayer failed to warn patients about a serious risk of uncontrollable, irreversible bleeding in emergencies and were aware of adverse events for a long period of time. These allegations will be argued aggressively by defense in all forthcoming trials, as the defendants do not seem to be willing to bend on their winning trial strategy.
Bayer and Janssen have defended Xarelto’s label stating that the label adequately warns of bleeding risks. After four trials verdicts, all in their favor, defense seems to be using an effective trial strategy that has worked in venues across the country.
The three bellwether trials in the Xarelto MDL 2592, all resulted in defense wins for Bayer and Janssen, with this Philadelphia trial shifting the focus from the federal Xarelto docket to the Philadelphia court and the Hartman trial. What impact the initial plaintiff’s trial win followed by the Judge Erdos reversal this week has on both Xarelto dockets remains to be seen.