A federal appeals court has dealt a blow to Novartis’ attempt to apply the sharp limits on punitive damages claims of its home state New Jersey to litigation over its cancer drugs Aredia and Zometa.
On Thursday in Winter v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected the company’s request for a new trial on that jurisdictional issue. The ruling affirmed Western District of Missouri U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey’s application of Missouri law to those claims.
The jury did not award punitive damages, but Novartis argued that the evidence for that claim tainted the jury’s review of liability and compensatory damages.
The jury awarded $225,000 in compensatory damages and some costs to Christine Winter, executor of the estate of Ruth Baldwin, a late resident of Missouri. Winter claimed the company hadn’t warned Baldwin’s doctor about Aredia and Zometa’s links to osteonecrosis—a degenerative bone disease—of the jaw until well after she’d contracted it.
Baldwin’s doctor prescribed her those drugs to prevent bone-related complications from metastatic cancer. After Baldwin had two teeth removed, and while taking Zometa, she developed that condition.
The district court correctly held that Missouri had the “most significant relationship” to that claim, Circuit Judge Duane Benton wrote. Judges Steven Colloton and James Loken joined him.
“New Jersey may have an interest in its corporations being governed by its punitive damages provisions, but as the district court held, Missouri has a strong interest in applying its punitive damages laws to deter conduct by corporations doing business in Missouri that harms Missouri residents,” Benton wrote.
The Eighth Circuit was the first appellate court to directly address Novartis’ argument about New Jersey punitive damages law, according to Winter’s lawyer, John Vecchione of Fairfax, Va. “Other [circuit] courts may follow this very reasoned opinion on this issue. Novartis could be looking on some trials that are only on punitive damages,” he said.
The court held that the plaintiffs’ use of U.S. Food and Drug Administrative forms filled out by doctors reporting adverse drug effects constituted improper hearsay, but that the error was harmless because it supplemented additional testimony and didn’t prejudice the jury, the circuit held.
Additionally, the court affirmed Magistrate Judge Matt Whitworth’s judgment upholding the jury’s finding that inadequate warnings proximately caused Baldwin’s injuries.
Finally, the court found that Whitworth abused his discretion in awarding the plaintiff all of her lawyer’s $89,000 costs for depositions that will be used in additional cases in multidistrict litigation.
Novartis’ lawyers at Faegre Baker Daniels, Foley & Mansfield of Minneapolis and Washington-based Hollingsworth did not respond to requests for comment.
“Novartis is disappointed with the portion of the court’s decision that denied our appeal for a new trial,” company spokeswoman Julie Masow said in an email. “However, we are pleased the Court recognized that a single plaintiff may not claim for himself all the costs incurred in litigation covering many hundreds of plaintiffs.”
Sheri Qualters can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.