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The first jury trial over products liability claims that the acne medication Accutane causes depression has ended in a defense verdict. But plaintiffs’ attorneys in other lawsuits against the makers of Accutane contend this defense win for Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. in Oklahoma will have no impact on the prospects of future trials or the filing of additional claims. The verdict was an “aberration,” akin to rejections of asbestos claims by plaintiffs with mesothelioma in certain districts, said plaintiffs’ attorney Peter J. McNulty of Los Angeles’ McNulty Law firm, who has filed about a dozen Accutane cases. The plaintiff in Oklahoma, he contended, did not have access to “reams and reams” of more recently discovered documents acquired by other plaintiffs’ attorneys, showing what McNulty termed “a direct link” between Accutane and dramatic psychological changes in its users. According to the defendant, however, the jury’s verdict was caused by a lack of scientific evidence. “Even the plaintiff’s own experts had to admit that the theory that Accutane can cause depression is not accepted in the scientific community,” said defense counsel Harry Woods of Oklahoma City’s Crowe & Dunlevy. But as evidence that the defense win will not deter filings, five days after the Oklahoma jury verdict, McNulty and other attorneys for the estate of Charles John Bishop — the teen-ager who flew a plane into a Florida office building in January — sued Hoffmann-La Roche, contending that Accutane made Bishop psychotic. McNulty is also reviewing another 20 prospective claims. Bishop’s death was unusual, but he fits this pattern, said Michael Ryan of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.’s Krupnick Campbell, who is also representing the Bishop estate. Bishop began taking Accutane in April 2001 and in January 2002 flew a Cessna aircraft into the Bank of America Plaza in downtown Tampa, leaving a note professing sympathy for the Sept. 11 World Trade Center bombers. Prior to this, said Ryan, Bishop, 15, was an honor student with no history of depression. Bishop v. Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. Accutane was introduced by La Roche in 1982 as a medication for severe acne and has long been one of the drug maker’s top sellers, with revenues of $700 million per year, Ryan noted. According to La Roche, the company has mentioned depression as a possible side effect in product package inserts since 1985. But, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, this advisory was not included in the “boxed warnings section” of the package insert, which would have triggered concern by physicians, said the plaintiff’s attorney in the Oklahoma trial, Tulsa solo practitioner William Wilkinson. Wilkinson’s client, Carla Gray, began taking Accutane in 1993, when she was 29. At the time, Wilkinson said, “she was a happily married mother of three children.” But after use of the drug over the next seven years, Gray spiraled into a deep depression, which destroyed her marriage and left her feeling continually “hopeless and helpless,” he claims. In October 2000, Gray saw a segment on the “Today” show covering the death of the son of Michigan congressman Bart Stupak. Bart Jr., who had been taking Accutane, had committed suicide. Gray stopped taking Accutane immediately and “she returned to normal,” Wilkinson said. She then filed a products liability action against Hoffmann-La Roche. Gray v. Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. (E.D. Okla.). Hoffmann-La Roche contended at trial that there was no scientific evidence showing that Accutane causes depression. In addition, La Roche’s expert on suicide, Dr. Douglas Jacobs of Harvard, testified that depression was “typically associated with multiple risk factors” and that depression is “often cyclical,” with the symptoms “related to negative life events.” Gray was seeking $3 million in damages, but on April 11, the Muscogee, Okla., jury returned a defense verdict. The jury’s rejection was spurred, said Wilkinson, by the timing of jury deliberations and the court’s refusal to admit certain evidence. The case closed on April 5, but the court recessed until April 11, when the jury returned to the courtroom and began deliberating. By this time, he said, “in my opinion, the jurors had forgotten important information.” The plaintiff will be filing motions to set aside the verdict, Wilkinson said. If the motions fail, “we will appeal.”

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