Jury Returns $1.59M Verdict in Suit Over Roche Drug Accutane

Jury Returns $1.59M Verdict in  Suit Over Roche Drug Accutane TANNEN MAURY A Roche Holding AG's Accutane acne pill package is photographed in a pharmacy in Wilmette, Illinois on Friday, November 19, 2004. Concerns for the drug was expressed by FDA medical reviewer David Graham who told a U.S. Senate panel that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should scrutinize the drug's side effects. Photographer: Tannen Maury/ Bloomberg News

A New Jersey jury on Tuesday returned a $1.59 million verdict for a woman who developed bowel disease after using the acne drug Accutane— the seventh plaintiff victory in as many suits against the manufacturers that have been tried to conclusion.

The Atlantic County jury found after a month-long trial that the drug’s makers, Hoffman-LaRoche and Roche Laboratories, failed to provide plaintiff Kamie Kendall Ries with adequate warning of the health risks.

Ries, of Salt Lake City, who began using Accutane at the age of 12 in the 1990s, later developed ulcerative colitis and had to have her colon removed

The suit heartened attorneys for plaintiffs in the roughly 7,000 Accutane cases pending in New Jersey and elsewhere.

The latest verdict affirms that “Accutane’s role as a cause of ulcerative colitis is a settled issue,” says plaintiff lawyer David Buchanan, of Seeger Weiss in New York. “Roche’s continued denials in the face of seven juries in New Jersey, and one in Florida, stating otherwise is a continuing insult to the many who have who have already suffered so much due to this drug.”

Ries, like the other plaintiffs, contends that Accutane was sold with an inadequate warning of the risk of colitis. In Ries’ case,

The jury’s finding that the inadequacy of warnings extended to 1998, when Ries was prescribed Accutane, will help plaintiffs in future cases, says Buchanan’s co-counsel, Michael Hook of Hook Bolton in Pensacola, Fla.

Roche spokeswoman Tara Iannuccillo said, “We are disappointed in the verdict in light of the clear Accutane warnings and the science showing no link between Accutane and inflammatory bowel disease. Roche intends to appeal.”

With Roche not talking settlement, the plaintiffs will seek to streamline the litigation through motion practice and trying more cases together in the future, Buchanan says.

The verdict comes after a $10.5 million award in 2008 was overturned in 2010. The Appellate Division found that Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee improperly restricted the defense from presenting statistics about the total numbers of Accutane users. Roche then took the case to the Supreme Court on a statute of limitations issue, and the court held that the suit was timely filed.

Of the eight Accutane trials in New Jersey, one of the eight ended in a hung jury in December 2011. In each of the other seven, including Ries’ case, juries found Roche failed to provide adequate working of the risk of bowel disease Of 13 plaintiffs in those seven cases, nine received monetary awards. The other four were found not to have proven proximate cause.

Two other plaintiff verdicts have been overturned. Andrew McCarrell saw his 2007 verdict for $2.6 million vacated but he won almost ten times that much, $25 million, in a second trial in 2010.

An $11.8 million verdict for three plaintiffs from Florida—Lance Sager, Jordan Speisman and Kelly Mace—was reversed in 2012 based on an application of Florida law on proximate cause. The appeals court cited testimony by the three prescribing physicians that a stronger label warning would not have kept them from prescribing Accutane.

It’s been nearly nine years since all New Jersey suits alleging Accutane has a link to bowel disease were centralized before Higbee.

Over time, she has rankled Roche lawyers, both in her rulings and in her demeanor, which they say have demonstrated partiality toward the plaintiffs.

In 2012, Roche sought to have her disqualified, citing her comments about the litigation at a defense bar conference and her criticism of the company for not settling. The Supreme Court denied the request this past January.

Lead defense counsel on the case are Orlando Richmond Sr. of Butler Snow in Jackson, Mississippi; Russell Hewit of Dughi Hewit Domalewski in Cranford; Paul Schmidt of Covington & Burlington in Washington; and Michelle Bufano of Gibbons in Newark. They did not return calls for comment.

Contact the reporter at ctoutant@alm.com.