Xarelto Trial Opening Statements -- What Killed Sharon Orr?

Sharyn Orr of Kenner, LA, She was an academic advisor for Tulane University for over 40 years.
Sharyn Orr of Kenner, LA, was an academic advisor for Tulane University for over 40 years.

The outcome of the second bellwether trial over the dangers of Xarelto, a blood thinner sold by Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Bayer, boils down to what killed plaintiff Sharyn Orr, a 67-year-old grandmother with a host of medical problems.

The plaintiffs say it was Xarelto. The defense says it was her uncontrolled high blood pressure. The jury will decide in In Re: Xarelto (Rivaroxaban) Products Liability LitigationJoseph Orr v. Janssen Research, Case No. 2:15-CV-3708, before US District Judge Eldon Fallon in the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Massive brain hemorrhage

In his opening argument, plaintiff attorney Brian H. Barr of Levin Papantonio of Pensacola, FL, argued Xarelto caused a massive brain hemorrhage that killed her in on May 4, 2015, after she was rushed to the hospital with a severe headache and vomiting.

“Hypertension and diabetes, they did not slow Mrs. Orr down. What slowed her down, what took her life was Xarelto, a pill that she was taking to reduce her risk of stroke,” Barr told the jury in his opening statement. “Sharyn should have never been put on the drug Xarelto.”

“Defendants learned that for every million people who take Xarelto for one year, 36,000 of those people will have a major bleeding event. 5,000 of those bleeding events will be brain bleeds like Ms. Orr had, and 2,000 of those events will be fatal,” he argued.

In this failure to warn case, the drug companies failed to state on the label that a simple test — a  “prothrombin time” or “PT” test — would have revealed how much Xarelto was in her blood. In the hospital, neurosurgeon Dr. Bui delayed operating on her skull because he didn’t know how much Xarelto was circulating in her.

“Her chance of survival would have been about 60 percent had Dr. Bui been able to immediately operate. You will hear that Ms. Orr could have been saved had these companies told her doctors the truth,” Barr said.

“There was no scientific reason for not telling doctors in the drug label to actually measure blood levels with PT when considering emergency surgery. The evidence will be that the defendants chose a marketing advantage over good science and patient safety,” he said.

Plaintiff witnesses include:

  • Video testimony of several company executives who will testify about internal company documents that PT is a useful test to inform doctors in cases of urgent surgery.
  • Dr. Peter Liechty, a neurosurgeon, trained at the University of Alabama, who practices in Thibodaux, Louisiana. He will testify that had Dr. Bui been able to immediately operate, Ms. Orr most likely would have survived and had a meaningful recovery.
  • Dr. Scott D Berkowitz, a Bayer vice president, who will testify that there was the need for an indicator test and that PT could give the information that was needed for emergency surgery.
  • Dr. Frank Smart, a professor of medicine and the chief of cardiology at the LSU School of Medicine. “He is going to explain to you that Xarelto is the worst, most dangerous of all the NOACs,” Barr said. A NOAC is a novel oral anticoagulant.

Defense: aged plaintiff was very sick

Defense attorney Beth A. Wilkinson of Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz, LLP in Washington, DC, argued in her opening statement that the plaintiff “had type 2 diabetes, which was causing damage to her body. She had sustained high cholesterol. She had horrible kidney disease, stage 3 kidney disease. And then she had atrial fibrillation — or AFib — in 2011 and heart failure, cardiac heart failure, that same year. All of these conditions, as you’ll see, contributed to difficulties that she was having on a day-to-day basis.”

“So she had a drug for diabetes. She had five different drugs for her blood pressure. She had a drug for neuropathy, which is when you lose the feeling, and that often happens, unfortunately, to diabetics. She was on aspirin. She was on Xarelto for AFib. She was on cholesterol and gout medication. So even though she was only 67 years old and she lived a full life and she exercised, she got the real short end of the stick. She did everything she was supposed to, but her body wasn’t working,” she argued.

The death certificate says Orr died from hypertension — uncontrolled high blood pressure which was the cause of a brain hemorrhage. On the day she died her blood pressure was 200/90.

“Now, Xarelto doesn’t even cause hemorrhages. Even Dr. Smart, their cardiologist, and Dr. Khatib, who will be our cardiologist who has the specialty of electrophysiology, they both tell you that Xarelto doesn’t cause a bleed,” she argued.

She blamed the FDA for removing text about the PT test. “We do talk about PT in the label. That is the Xarelto label. We do say what we believe we can say. We tried, as you will see in evidence, to say more and we submitted it to the FDA. And guess what the FDA said? They crossed it out of the label. And you are going to see that strikeout,” she said.

Other defense witnesses include:

  • Dr. Mahanna, who filled out the death certificate.
  • Dr. St. Martin, her treating cardiologist, who prescribed Xarelto for her in February 2014. “He still believes it was the right decision to prescribe her Xarelto,” Wilkinson said. “Dr. St. Martin and others feel like this is a good drug is because it has been so thoroughly tested.”

 

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