We love the unexpected. We loved standing up after what we thought was the finale of the fireworks show last night only to be left breathless by a stunning and unexpected encore.  We loved walking in to a “quiet family dinner” for our recent advanced birthday to find the room filled with dear relatives and friends shouting “surprise.”  But sometimes it is nice when things happen just as they are supposed to (which, in the jurisprudential world, may actually be unexpected!), like they did in today’s case, a terrific summary judgment decision out of the Eastern District of New York.  (A shout out to Tom Kurland of Patterson, Belknap for the victory and for sending us the decision before it was available online.)

In Chandler v. Janssen Pharms. Inc., et al., — F.Supp. 3d —,  2018 WL 3212422 (E.D.N.Y June 29,  2018), the plaintiff, placed in foster care in 1996 when he was six years old,  began taking Risperdal the next year after displaying aggression at school.  He continued to have serious psychiatric and behavioral problems and to take Risperdal in gradually increasing doses, until 2009.  That year, during a visit with his psychiatrist, the plaintiff complained that his breasts were enlarged.  The psychiatrist recommended that the plaintiff stop taking Risperdal, which he observed was “probably responsible for the breast enlargement,” and noted that he had been aware of the correlation between the drug and breast enlargement for several years. The plaintiff continued to see psychiatrists, and to take antipsychotic medications, until late 2012.   In April 2014, he underwent bilateral mastectomies to remove his enlarged breast tissue.  In March 2015, he filed suit alleging that the defendants failed adequately to wan about rate of incidence of gynecomastia (breast enlargement) in pediatric users of Risperdal.  Specifically, although the label at all relevant times, had always included a Precaution about gynecomastia, the plaintiff alleged that gynecomastia should have been listed in the “Warnings” or “Adverse Reaction” section, and that gynecomastia rates were two to five times higher than the 2.3% rate listed in the label after October 2006, when Risperdal was approved for pediatric use.  He alleged that his doctor would not have prescribed Risperdal if he had known about the higher incidence rate.

The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff had not produced admissible evidence that the Risperdal gynecomastia warning was inadequate.   The defendants argued that the only “evidence” supporting the plaintiff’s warnings claim was the two cherry-picked clinical studies that ostensibly demonstrated the higher incidence rate, a “contention that [was] inadmissible without expert testimony.” Chandler, 2018 WL 3212422 at *6.

The court explained that, under the learned intermediary doctrine, a drug warning is “adequate as a matter of law if it clearly and unambiguously notifies the prescribing physician of the particular adverse reaction that forms the basis of the plaintiff’s complaint.” Id. (citations omitted).  Because the Risperdal label always warned that the product could cause gynecomastia, the plaintiff could not prove that the label was inadequate.   The court also rejected the argument that the label should have included an incidence rate for gynecomastia before the drug was approved for use in children, noting that the defendants “were clearly keeping abreast of knowledge” of the drug through available methods and were “taking steps to bring that knowledge to the attention of the medical profession.”   Id. (internal punctuation and citation omitted).  Finally, the court held that the plaintiff had not produced admissible evidence that the gynecomastia incidence rate in the 2006 and 2007 labels was inadequate.  The plaintiff relied on two studies (of eighteen conducted around the same time)  that allegedly showed higher incidence rates, but the plaintiff “introduce[d] no  expert testimony on the validity of [those]  studies, either standing alone or  compared to the other sixteen studies, or [on]  the regulatory requirements of labeling.” Id, at *8.  Without an expert, the court held, the plaintiff could not opine on the “statistical or methodological differences between the studies or why the two studies he cited were correctly decided in comparison to the other sixteen.” Id.  Concluding, “To be clear, while the two studies could be evidence of higher incidence rates, the absence of an expert to interpret and validate them precludes their admission,” id, the court held that Risperdal’s gynecomastia warnings were adequate as a matter of law at all relevant times.

Warnings Causation

Though the defendants were entitled to summary judgment based on the adequacy of the warning, the court went on to consider the issue of warnings causation; in other words, whether a different warning would have changed the plaintiff’s doctors’ decisions to prescribe the drug. The court added, “if the treating physician is aware of the risks of a drug, independent of any warning by the manufacturer, such knowledge constitutes an intervening event relieving the manufacturer of any liability to a patient under a failure to warn theory.” Id. at *10 (internal punctuation and citations omitted).   In this case, both of the plaintiff’s prescribing physicians knew of the possible correlation between Risperdal and gynecomastia “both before and during the time that they prescribed the drug” for the plaintiff. Id.  One of the doctors testified that he wasn’t sure he would have changed his prescribing decisions even if he knew the risk was higher.  The other  testified that, although he knew of the gynecomastia risk from other  sources, he didn’t read the label or advise the plaintiff of the risk, both of which constituted intervening causes, “severing the causal connection between Defendants’ alleged failure  to warn and Plaintiffs’ injury.” Id. (citation omitted).  Finally, the court disregarded the plaintiff’s guardian’s affirmation to the effect that she would not have consented to the Risperdal prescription if the plaintiff’s doctor had advised her of the gynecomastia risk.  The court explained, “A failure to obtain informed consent might be a viable theory of liability against [a] physician or … hospital,” but neither was a party to the lawsuit.  Because the plaintiff could not establish specific (warnings) causation, the court held that the defendants were entitled to summary judgment on that basis as well.

We love a good warnings decision, and we are delighted that we had the chance to bring this one to you.   We hope you all had a great holiday.

When we were on a jury last month we were warned not to consult any outside sources.  And we didn’t.  When we were in high school last century and studied the works of Eliot, Lawrence, Joyce, Waugh, and (another) Eliot, we were instructed not to consider extraneous issues, such as biography or social conditions.  Our teachers were still in the grip of the New Criticism and, therefore, so were we. 

 

But we found today’s case, Lynch v. State, 2018 Conn. Super. LEXIS 851 (Conn. Superior Ct. April 17, 2018), tough sledding without doing some research beyond the four corners of the opinion.  The case is about a plaintiff who was inseminated by a sperm bank donor, came down with a cytomegalovirus (CMV), and gave birth to children with serious injuries.   What we learned courtesy of the internet is that CMV is fairly common and usually doesn’t cause terrible maladies.  The problem is that if a CMV-negative woman gets infected with CMV during pregnancy, there is a possibility of birth defects.  That is what happened here.  The plaintiff had been CMV negative.  That is something she knew and her doctor knew, but the sperm bank did not know it.  The sperm donor tested as CMV-positive, though he no longer actively suffered from CMV.  The sperm bank accurately disclosed the CMV-positive status of the sperm.  What the sperm bank did not do was tell the plaintiff that if she was CMV-negative, then CMV-positive sperm could pose a risk.  But, presumably, the plaintiff’s doctor would know that.  We know it from reading a Wikipedia article.  We never attended medical school, not even for ten seconds.  Call us a semi-learned, blogging defense hack.

 

The sperm bank moved for summary judgment, arguing that it did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care because a sperm bank does not have a duty to inquire into its clients’ CMV status, nor is it obligated to engage in an informed consent discussion with clients regarding the clients’ CMV status.  The Connecticut court agreed with the sperm bank and dismissed the case.  How is this a drug or device case?  It isn’t, but the scope of duty to warn and the relevance of the learned intermediary doctrine both poke their way into this case, and that is enough for us to stand up and take notice.    

 

Pursuant to the regulations, sperm banks are required to test their donors for certain diseases, including CMV. But the regulations do not impose on sperm banks an obligation to discuss the implication of the tests they run with the purchasers.  The evidence here showed that the sperm bank fulfilled its obligation to test for the sperm donor’s CMV status and to report the results accurately.  The results indicated that the donor was fully recovered and immunized from the virus, and that he was not actively infected with CMV at the time of the donation. Due to these test results, the defendants reported that the donor was CMV-positive.  The evidence did not show any knowledge on the part of the sperm bank that the plaintiff was CMV-negative.  The only duty the sperm bank had to the plaintiff was to conduct the required testing on the donor and to report the results of the tests, which it did.

 

The Connecticut court analogized to the duties that a pharmacy owes to its customers.  A previous Connecticut court applied the learned intermediary doctrine to pharmacists. Yay for the Nutmeg State. The court held that imposing a general duty on pharmacies and pharmacists to investigate and evaluate all of the medications that their customers’ physicians prescribed would impose a burden outside the scope of their normal duties, as the main job of pharmacists is to dispense the medications that their customers’ physicians prescribe. The learned intermediary doctrine makes sense in the pharmacist context given the fact that physicians have more knowledge than pharmacists about their patients’ needs and proclivities. Holding otherwise would put pharmacists between the physician-patient relationship.  The sperm bank is like a pharmacist.  (That’s a sentence we never thought we would write, but there it is.) The plaintiff’s doctor testified that he would typically advise CMV-negative patients to choose CMV-negative sperm. (The opinion does not make clear why that did not happen here.)  The court reasoned that holding that the sperm bank “had a duty to inform the plaintiff parents about the risks that CMV posed would also put the sperm bank in the middle of the physician-patient relationship.” 

 

Most of the Lynch opinion contains a discussion of the scope of duty.  There is a lot about foreseeability. (It throws us back to first year in law school, when we sat in the last row, next to the guy who always added to the seating chart a space for “Garth, the Most Savage Troll of All.”  Only one teacher ever had the temerity to call upon Garth.)  Even beyond foreseeability, the court asked whether the sperm bank might have assumed a duty to the plaintiff because either its failure to exercise care increased the risk of harm or the harm was suffered because of the plaintiff’s reliance upon the defendant’s undertaking. No and no.  First, the information that the sperm bank made available on its website about sperm CMV status did not appear to increase the risk of the type of harm that the plaintiff allegedly suffered. Although the website did arguably give some medical advice by saying that the risk of acquiring CMV from donor sperm is low, the website also informed its customers that this is a medical issue that clients should discuss with their physician. This language “clearly suggests that the sperm bank’s customers should not rely on the information provided on the website and that they should ask their physicians about CMV.”  Back to the learned intermediary.  Second, there is no evidence that the plaintiff relied on this information when selecting the donor’s sperm. The plaintiff testified that she did not discuss her or her donor’s CMV status with any representative from the defendant sperm bank, and there is no indication that she saw the page on the website that allegedly created a duty.  The Lynch court went back to the pharmacy example.  It is possible for a pharmacy or pharmacist to assume a duty when they have “specific knowledge of potential harm to specific persons in particular cases.”  But here, “this exception is not applicable because the defendant sperm bank had no knowledge of the plaintiff mother’s CMV status.” 

 

Applicable federal regulations did not help the plaintiff’s case.  Test results will show that a donor is CMV-positive even if the donor had contracted and then subsequently recovered from the virus. FDA regulations provide that a sperm donor who is actively infected with CMV is ineligible to donate. Here, the sperm bank tested the donor and determined that he was CMV-positive, but that he had fully recovered from the virus and was not actively infected with it at the time of his donation.  There was no violation of the regulations.

 

Finally, there was the usual argument from a plaintiff that summary judgment should be denied until discovery is complete.  But a party requesting more time to conduct discovery bears the burden of establishing a valid reason why the motion should be denied, including some indication as to what steps the party has taken to secure facts necessary to defeat the motion. That burden was not met here.  Thus, the court granted the defendant summary judgment.

We are beginning to feel like the Drug and Device Law theatre critic. Or perhaps we should say “theatre cheerleader,” as we rarely wax critical (at least about the stuff we include in our blog posts).  Last week, we saw the wonderful new musical Come From Away.   It is a true story, and it begins in the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland on September 11, 2001.  On that infamous day, Gander opened its doors, and its collective heart, to many thousands of U.S.A.-bound airline passengers whose planes were forced to land when U.S. airspace was closed in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.  Despite the tragedy in the background – and in the foreground for some characters unable to confirm whether relatives were victims of the attacks – the play is an exquisitely energetic and joyful celebration of the openness of the human heart and the resilience of the human spirit.  On the last note of the last song, the cheering audience rose in unison in a manner we have rarely seen.

As in Come From Away, tragic facts are common in our line of work, but they can sometimes provide the framework for a silver lining. In the hands of a rigorous judge committed to correct application of the law despite the pull of sympathy, difficult facts can produce laudable precedent.   Such is not the case in today’s decision out of the Depakote litigation in the Southern District of Illinois.

In E.R.G. v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., 2017 WL 3055520 (S.D. Ill. July 19, 2017), the plaintiff was a child who was conceived while his mother was taking Depakote and who was born with spina bifida and other birth defects.  At trial, the jury found for the plaintiff on his claim of negligent failure to warn and awarded fifteen million dollars in compensatory damages.  (The jury found that the evidence did not support an award of punitive damages.)  The defendant filed a post-verdict motion for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that: 1) the plaintiff did not produce evidence that the defendant failed to provide adequate warnings of the risk of spina bifida; 2) the plaintiff did not produce evidence that the defendant failed to provide adequate warnings of other birth defects; and 3) the plaintiff failed to prove warnings causation because no doctor testified that a stronger warning would have altered his prescribing decision.  In the alternative, the defendant moved for a new trial, citing evidentiary issues and improper comments during closing argument.

  1.  Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

                        Adequacy of Label Warnings

The defendant argued that the label warnings were adequate as a matter of law because the label contained a black-boxed warning of the (correct) 1-2% incidence of spina bifida when the drug was taken during pregnancy. This portion of the decision – like much of the rest – is confusing, but the judge seems to say that, notwithstanding the accurate spina bifida warning, it might have been the case that other portions of the label were inadequate and that the plaintiff’s mother might be saying that other proper warnings would have resulted in a decision to stop taking the drug when she was pregnant.  It’s not clear where the judge is getting any of this, because none of this hypothetical testimony is cited in the decision.  The judge also states that the plaintiff did not “concede” that the spina bifida warning was adequate.  Instead, according to the judge, the jury could adopt the plaintiff’s expert’s theory that the spina bifida labeling was not adequate because it did not state that the drug should be used by pregnant women “only as a last resort.”  In an opinion rife with wrong, we found this “last resort” argument to be the furthest from the mark.  We know of nothing in law or regulation that invites a judge to deem that only specific semantics would have rendered a warning adequate, when the label warned of the precise risk that befell the plaintiff and included an accurate statement of the incidence of that risk.

Finally, the judge held that the jury could reasonably infer that the label was “materially misleading” when it stated that all antiepileptic drugs carried a risk of birth defects, based on evidence that the defendant’s drug carried a higher risk of spina bifida than other drugs in the class. As such, the judge held, the jury could conclude that the defendant “watered down” the spina bifida risk when it lumped the drug in with others that carried a “much lower risk of spina bifida.” E.R.G., 2017 WL 3055520 at *3.  The judge concluded, “Ultimately, there was more than enough evidence presented in Plaintiff’s case in chief to support an argument that the label, including the spina bifida waning was inadequate.” Id. 

            Warnings Causation 

Because the plaintiff’s mother’s physicians testified that they were aware of Depakote’s teratogenic effects when they prescribed the drug, the defendant argued that the plaintiff had not established that any inadequacy of the drug’s warnings was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiff countered that the issue was not whether the defendant “failed to warn generally of ‘teratogenic effects’” but whether the defendant “provided full, accurate, and complete information about Depakote’s total teratogenic risks and instructions on the safe use of Depakote in women of childbearing age . . . .” Id. Forgive us, but we fail to see the distinction here.  One of the last two physicians to prescribe the drug before the plaintiff was conceived testified that he would have advised the plaintiff’s mother to stop taking the drug if he had been advised to use it as a “last resort” (the chosen language of the plaintiff’s expert and the judge), but he later testified that he would not have “taken away” the drug if the plaintiff’s mother had insisted on taking it.  The judge concluded, “. . . [A] reasonable jury could find that . . . a stronger warning would have caused [the last prescriber] (who was already on the fence about the efficacy of Depakote for [the plaintiff’s mother], to stop prescribing the drug.” Id. at *4.   We think this is a stretch, given the testimony.

The judge may have thought so, too, because she made a confusing attempt to justify her conclusion.   She postulated, “If the jury believed that [the doctor] would have discontinued [plaintiff’s mother’s] prescription in favor of a different [drug], then the jury could reasonably infer that she would still have been off of Depakote when she went to see [the other doctor] for her final visit” to the doctors’ clinic. Id. “Nothing in the testimony of [the second doctor] indicates that if [the plaintiff’s mother] had shown up for her appointment on [a different drug], he would have independently restarted the Depakote prescription.  [The second doctor] that, while he did make an independent assessment of [the plaintiff’s mother] at her last visit, he repeatedly asserted that he was ‘refilling’ her medication.” Id. (citation omitted).   Have trouble following that?  Can’t figure out what it has to do with warnings causation?  Neither can we.  Bottom line is that the prescribers knew that the drug could cause spina bifida and prescribed it anyway.  And, even if the imaginary “last resort” language had been included, the doctor would not have taken the drug away from the plaintiff’s mother if she wanted to keep taking it.  We fail to see how any of this adds up to warnings causation, except in the mind of a judge who didn’t want to grant the defendant’s motion.

  1.  Motion for New Trial 

Predictably, the judge also denied the defendant’s motion for a new trial. Some highlights of that decision:

Mother’s Testimony

In this case, unlike what we are used to seeing in the prescription drug context, the patient – the plaintiff’s mother – was apparently warned about birth defects while the plaintiff alleged that the prescribers weren’t. This led to an upside-down trial in which plaintiff didn’t call his mother in his case in chief while the prescribers testified live.   When the defendant learned that plaintiff’s mother was not being called, it filed a motion to compel her to sit for a de bene esse deposition.  The judge denied the motion, and this denial was one of the bases of the defendant’s motion for a new trial.  The judge held that her denial of the defendant’s motion was proper because the defendant had not adequately explained why the mother’s fact deposition (which was not videotaped) “did not accurately capture her testimony.” Id. (This in spite of the fact that, in our experience, plaintiffs routinely win motions like these.)

“Top 3” Opinion 

The defendant challenged the admission of one of the plaintiff’s expert’s opinions that Depakote was one of the “top three” teratogenic drugs in the PDR, arguing that the opinion was not the product of a reliable methodology. The court disagreed, holding, “While a different expert may come to a different conclusion or may even use a different methodology to determine what the three worst drugs are in terms of teratology, that is not the test for excluding an opinion under Daubert.” Id. at *6.

Improper Comments in Plaintiff’s Closing Argument 

The defendant argued that prejudicial comments in the plaintiff’s closing argument entitled it to a new trial.   These included the comment that the defendant was “guilty as hell” (the judge had to explain to the jury that this was not a criminal trial), as well as comments suggesting that compensatory damages should be based on the defendant’s alleged “bad behavior” (the judge halted this line of argument after the defendant objected that it was an argument for punitive damages, not compensatories) and that the jury, through its award “had a chance to make a decision about the kind of world [it] wanted to live in.” Id. at *7 (citation omitted).  The judge, predictably, held that none of the comments was “overly prejudicial.” Id.  

And so the verdict was allowed to stand. While we reiterate that we were not always able to follow the judge’s reasoning, our takeaway was that she started with her desired result and worked backwards.   As for us, our next foray onto the Great White Way occurs next week, when we accede to a request from the Drug and Device Law Rock Climber that we accompany her to the production of 1984 currently playing at the Hudson Theatre.  This production is notable for the proliferation of audience members fainting and vomiting during the torture scene, so we suspect that cheerfulness may not permeate our description.  And we will have to find a case that makes us queasy so we can easily tie it in.  Based on today’s decision, we suspect this will not be too difficult.  We’ll keep you posted.

One of the (many) things that made last year’s decision in Barron v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., ___ S.W.3d ___, 2016 WL 6596091 (Mo. App. Nov. 8, 2016), so hideous that it weighed in at #3 of our worst decisions of the year was that, virtually without discussion, it held that an FDA-approved black box warning was not only inadequate but so poor as to be worthy of punitive damages.  Id. at *7.  Fortunately the Missouri Supreme Court granted a transfer (on January 5, 2017, according to Westlaw) and (we hope) will restore sanity on at least some of the issues in Barron.  However, the mere fact that a boxed warning – the strongest FDCA warning there is – could be utterly disregarded as in Barron got us thinking.

How have courts treated boxed warnings in other inadequate warning cases?

Initially, we’re not dealing in this post with claims that, in order to be adequate, a defendant’s labeling should have included a boxed warning. We’ve dealt with that kind of claim elsewhere, and our position is that, since the FDA must pre-approve all boxed warnings, all “should have added” claims are preempted.  This post deals with prescription medical products that already have boxed warnings.  Preemption becomes an issue in existing black box cases only if the plaintiff claims that the black box should have been changed – since (as discussed in the posts linked to previously) changes to black box warnings require prior FDA approval.

Looking back through our posts, we see we’ve described one decision, Hain v. Johnson & Johnson, No. ATL-L-8568-11 MT, slip op. (N.J. Super. L.D. June 20, 2013), reaching such a result. Hain recognized that “[a] ‘black box’ warning is the strongest warning required by the FDA.”  Id. at 6 (citing 21 C.F.R. §201.57(c)(1).  Regardless of what might be the case with other, similar products:

[B]y mandating each manufacturer include the strongest type of warning possible to warn of [the risk at issue], the FDA ensured each prescriber’s attention would be focused on the risk. . . .  [A] boxed warning required by the FDA existed in the package insert at the time [plaintiff] ingested [the drug].  Courts have previously held prescription warning labels containing a boxed warning, mandated by the FDA, are adequate as a matter of law.

Id. at 7.

In In re Chantix (Varenicline) Products Liability Litigation, 881 F. Supp.2d 1333 (N.D. Ala. 2012), the primary authority cited in Hain, the court determined that under the law of any state in the country, an on-point black box warning was adequate as a matter of law.  Such a warning was “the highest level warning possible, prominently displayed at the beginning of a drug’s official prescribing information.”  881 F. Supp.2d at 1339.  There could be no doubt that such a warning “was sufficient to alert to the possibility of the harm actually suffered.” Id. at 1340.  Plaintiff’s quibbles about when the drug should be used failed because they sought to tell physicians how to practice medicine.  “[T]he decision as to use [of] a medication as a first-line treatment is uniquely up to the prescribing medical professional and based on a decision concerning his or her individual patient.  Id.

Unlike the majority of cases reviewed by this court, the plaintiffs seek to pursue their failure to warn claims post the 2009 black box warning, not for failing to warn of possible complications from [the drug], but for failing to tell physicians when to prescribe it. . . .  [Even] the plaintiffs recognize that a black box warning is “the most serious warning in the FDA’s arsenal”. . . .  For the foregoing reasons, the court finds the 2009 black box warning adequate as a matter of law.

Id. at 1342-43 (citation omitted).  Accord In re Chantix (Varenicline) Products Liability Litigation, 889 F. Supp.2d 1272, 1304 (N.D. Ala. 2012) (“the court finds that [the] black box warning is adequate as a matter of law”).

Similarly, in Christison v. Biogen Idec, Inc., 199 F. Supp.3d 1315 (D. Utah 2016), the court held that a boxed warning of a usually fatal condition was adequate to warn physicians of that risk as a matter of law:

[I]t is undisputed that as a condition of [the drug’s] re-approval . . . the FDA required that the prescribing information contain a “black box” warning about [the risk] which is the strongest warning  required or permitted by FDA.  The black box warning, as the most serious warning available, can be reasonably expected to catch the attention of the consumer. . . .  [T]he intensity of the warning matched the magnitude of the risk.  The black box warning . . . was not qualified or minimized in any way because the magnitude of the risk − death or severe disability − was of the highest possible degree.

Id. at 1343-44 (footnotes omitted).  Accord Amos v. Biogen Idec, Inc., ___ F. Supp.3d ___, 2017 WL 1316968, at *5 (W.D.N.Y. April 10, 2017) (adequacy as a matter of law; the drug’s “label contained this information in a black box warning, the strongest warning available”); Gentile v. Biogen Idec, Inc., 33 Mass. L. Rptr. 607, 2016 WL 4168942, at *6 (Mass. Super. July 28, 2016) (“[t]he black box warning in effect when [the prescriber] first prescribed [the drug] to [plaintiff’s decedent] explicitly warned against the precise risk . . . that [she] ultimately suffered, and fully disclosed the serious consequences of that disease”).

In Aaron v. Wyeth, 2010 WL 653984 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 19, 2010), the product’s black box warning “advised physicians of the specific risks at issue in the instant case,” thus the court found “no evidence that [defendant] breached its duty to exercise reasonable care to inform [the prescriber] and others similarly situated of the risks associated with” taking the drug in question, even though the prescriber testified that he did not remember the warning correctly.  Id. at *10.  In Whiteside v. Johnson & Johnson, 2015 WL 11120989 (Mag. N.D. Tex. Mar. 13, 2015), adopted, 2015 WL 11120990 (N.D. Tex. July 8, 2015), the court dismissed the action with prejudice when the plaintiff abandoned ship in the face of the defendant’s summary judgment motion.  The court noted that the “Plaintiff’s prescription postdat[ing] . . . Defendants’ addition of an adequate ‘black box’ warning about the risks associated with the drug in question . . . would be fatal to Plaintiff’s claims.”  Id. at *1 n.1. See also Holland v. Hoffman-La Roche, Inc., 2007 WL 4042757, at *2-3 (N.D. Tex. Nov. 15, 2007) (black box warning held adequate as a matter of law; Texas presumption unrebutted); Clark v. Hoffman-La Roche, Inc., 2006 WL 1374516, at *7 (N.J. Super. May 2, 2006) (boxed warning “satisfied [defendant’s] burden under either New Jersey or Utah law to provide an adequate warning with respect to the risks” at issue); cf. In re Actos (Pioglitazone) Products Liability Litigation, 2014 WL 4364832, at *34 (W.D. La. Sept. 2, 2014) (characterizing post-prescription boxed warning as “hav[ing] full and adequate warnings”).

In a couple hours of looking we found more than a half-dozen cases where boxed warnings were held adequate as a matter of law.  Thus any court “unaware of any court holding that such a [boxed] warning is per se adequate as a matter of law,” Hutchens v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., 2016 WL 5661582, at *6 (N.D. Ohio Sept. 30, 2016), either didn’t look very hard, or wasn’t willing to accept what it found.

In our view, the bottom line with boxed warnings is: one, the presence of a boxed warning concerning the relevant risk of a prescription medical product demonstrates that the risk is adequately warned about and sufficiently emphasized, making the warning adequate as a matter of law; and in any event two, since the FDA controls the content of black box warnings, any allegations that existing boxed warnings are inadequate are necessarily preempted.

We’ve often thought that tort reform should be a major goal of those interested in preserving women’s reproductive choice. Every prescription medicine has risks, which is why the FDA requires a prescription in the first place, and prescription contraceptives are no exception. But ever since the very first birth control pills, back in the 1960s, the other side of the “v.” has consistently attacked every innovation in contraceptive technology and attempted to drive it off the market. It’s happened over and over again – with IUDs, Norplant, OrthoEvra, Yasmin, NuvaRing, Mirena, Essure. Except for the Dalkon Shield IUD forty years ago (and occasional idiosyncratic manufacturing errors), all these products were (or are being) ultimately vindicated, and the FDA continues to consider their designs to be both safe and effective. Unfortunately their users have had to pay a significant tort tax in order to continue exercising their personal choice of contraceptive method.

Niedner v. Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc., ___ N.E.3d ___, 2016 WL 5106479 (Mass. App. Sept. 21, 2016), is both an example of the plaintiff’s bar’s ongoing attempt to deprive women of reproductive choice and an exemplar of how to beat such efforts. Niedner involved a time-release contraceptive patch:

The patch prevents pregnancy by transferring synthetic forms of the hormones estrogen and progestin through the skin. Unlike oral birth control pills, which must be taken at the same time each day, the patch is applied to the skin once per week for three weeks, followed by a fourth patch-free week.

Id. at *1. The decedent decided to use this product in preference to both condoms and daily birth control pills.  Id.

Risks.

It is a well-known scientific fact that any hormonal contraceptive places its user at an increased risk of stroke, myocardial infarction, and blood clots generally. This product was no exception:

[The prescribing physician] informed [the decedent minor and her mother] of the risks associated with using the patch, including that all hormonal contraceptives come with a risk of suffering blood clots. When the prescription was filled by [the] pharmacy, the package included an insert prepared by . . . the manufacturer[], as well as a leaflet from the pharmacy, both of which set forth the risks associated with use of the patch, including the risks of stroke, heart attack, and blood clots.

Id. Unfortunately, after three months use the decedent suffered a fatal “massive bilateral pulmonary embolus.”  Id.

Continue Reading Massachusetts Rebuffs Latest Plaintiff Attack on Reproductive Choice

Anyone who has checked our post-Levine innovator drug & vaccine cheat sheet lately has no doubt noticed our two most recent entries, Gentile v. Biogen Idec, Inc., 2016 WL 4128159 (Mass. Super. July 25, 2016), and Christison v. Biogen Idec Inc., No. 2:11-CV-01140-DN-DBP, slip op. (D. Utah Aug. 5, 2016).  With respect to preemption and innovator drug warnings, these cases provide further support to an emerging, common-sense bright line in the otherwise all-too-murky world of “clear evidence” – that a warning change rejected by the FDA for lack of scientific evidence must be “clear evidence” that this change would have also been rejected at any earlier date.  The logic is inescapable that, if there was insufficient scientific evidence at moment X, there is no more, and usually less, evidence on the same issue at any time before X.

Looking at our cheat sheet, the first case to so hold appears to be In re Fosamax (Alendronate Sodium) Products Liability Litigation, 951 F. Supp.2d 695 (D.N.J. 2013). Fosamax involved the FDA’s partial rejection of a prior approval supplement after the date of the plaintiff’s injury.  Id. at 703 (FDA rejection occurred “approximately one month after” plaintiff’s injury).  The label change failed because “the data that FDA has reviewed have not shown a clear connection” between the drug and the risk at issue.  Id. at 699.

[C]lear evidence exists that the FDA would not have approved a label change to the Precautions section of the [drug] label prior to [plaintiff’s] fracture because Defendant submitted a label change and the FDA rejected it, and the FDA never required Defendant to submit new language or change the label, which demonstrates that the FDA did not think that the label should have been changed at that time.

Id. at 703-04. See In re Fosamax Alendronate Sodium Products Liability Litigation, 2014 WL 1266994, at *11 (D.N.J. March 26, 2014) (applying this ruling “to those Plaintiffs’ whose injuries occurred prior to [the FDA rejection date], without allowing additional discovery”).

Continue Reading Two Favorable Tysabri Rulings Add Clarity to “Clear Evidence” Preemption Standard – and More

We were not able to make our annual pilgrimage to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show this year, so we had to settle for watching the televised portions on the couch with the Drug and Device Law Rescued Ragamuffins.  And the cat.  (We mostly resisted the all-day live feed of the breed judging.)   Since the Best in Show lineup didn’t include a Standard Poodle, our “breed of the heart” (a cute Bulldog named Annabelle beat Ricky, the stunning black Standard Poodle, in the Nonsporting Group), and being nothing if not bandwagon jumpers, we were rooting for “Rumor” a gorgeous German Shepherd who was the top winning show dog of 2015 by many, many points.  And she showed beautifully.  But she was defeated by “C.J.,” a German Shorthaired Pointer. While we don’t count ourselves as sporting breed fanciers, C.J. is a cool dog.  And, most interestingly (maybe not, but it gives us a hook to transition to our case in a minute), C. J.’s grandmother, Carlee, was Best in Show in 2005. Carlee was known for her flawless “free stack” – instead of needing her handler to place her feet in the right positions and stretch out her neck – “stack” her – for the judge’s examination, she did it all by herself in the most striking of fashions.   Westminster trivia:  like the Adamses and the Bushes, Westminster can count one example of a father siring his eventual successor:  Robert, the English Springer Spaniel, was Best in Show in 1993.  His daughter, Samantha, “took the Garden” seven years later.  The ostensible point of dog shows is to reward the best specimens of each breed so they will pass their genes to future generations, so it is neat when a judge’s good decision is affirmed.

And so it was recently in the Third Circuit.  In In re Avandia Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation (Linda and John Schatz, appellants), — Fed. Appx, –, 2016 WL 574074 (3d Cir. Feb. 12, 2016) (applying Pennsylvania law), the panel considered Judge Cynthia Rufe’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant manufacturer in a case in the Avandia MDL. The plaintiff, who had taken Avandia, sustained bone fractures in two accidents and alleged that the manufacturer had failed to adequately warn of the risk of such fractures.  The manufacturer had informed doctors of this risk and, shortly thereafter, updated its warnings to include this information.  While it was not clear whether the plaintiff had already stopped taking the drug at this time, it was undisputed that she resumed taking it for a short time after the “bone fractures” warning was added to the label.

Continue Reading Solid Affirmances: Avandia Summary Judgment, and Westminster

Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out  something that should be blindly obvious.  In this case, that role was performed by a couple of our colleagues earlier this month at the annual ACI Drug and Medical Device Litigation Conference.  They both told us how useful they found the new – adopted in 2015 − Pennsylvania Suggested Standard (Civil) Jury Instructions (“Pa. SSJI Civ.”) on the learned intermediary rule in prescription drug and medical device litigation.  So we thought we’d introduce them to you.  Here they are:

23.00 (Civ) Duty to Warn − Reasonable Care

In the case of prescription [drugs] [medical devices], the manufacturer has an obligation to exercise reasonable care to inform the plaintiff’s prescribing physician about the risks of its product.  Such a manufacturer has a duty to warn about risks of its products that are not generally known, if the manufacturer knew or reasonably should have known about the risks of its product.

23.10 (Civ) Duty to Warn Physicians, Not Patients − Learned Intermediary Rule

A drug or medical device manufacturer only has a duty to warn the [prescribing] [implanting] physician about the dangers of its [drugs] [medical devices].

It does not have a duty to warn patients directly.

If you find that the defendant adequately warned the plaintiff’s [prescribing] [implanting] physician, even if the physician did not transmit that information to the plaintiff, you must find for the defendant on the failure-to-warn claim.

23.20 (Civ) Different Warning

The plaintiff has the burden of proving both of the following:

  1. that the defendant did not adequately warn the [prescribing] [implanting] physician about the risks of its [drug] [medical device], and
  2. that the [prescribing] [implanting] physician would not have [prescribed] [implanted] the [drug] [medical device] if a different warning had been provided.

23.30 (Civ) Physician’s Knowledge − Other Sources

A pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturer that fails to adequately warn the [prescribing] [implanting] physician about the risks of its [drug] [medical device] is not liable if the physician was aware of the risks from medical literature or other reliable sources.

If you find that the plaintiff’s [prescribing] [implanting] physician already knew about the risks of the defendant’s [drug] [medical device] when he or she decided to [prescribe] [implant] it [to] [in] the plaintiff, then you must find for the defendant on the negligent failure-to-warn claim.

Continue Reading Introducing the New Pennsylvania Learned Intermediary Jury Instructions

This post comes from the Cozen O’Connor side of the blog, not the Reed Smith side.

Last July, in the Tapia v. Davol, Inc. hernia patch case, Davol won its motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s failure to warn claim.  2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98521 at *16-17 (S.D. Cal. July 28, 2015).  The court was clear on why.  While plaintiff alleged facts on what was supposedly missing from the warnings, he alleged no facts suggesting that his own doctor didn’t receive a warning or that, if he had, he would not have prescribed the patch to plaintiff.  In other words, plaintiff did not allege facts to suggest proximate causation.  The court was explicit:

As to Defendant’s second argument regarding causation, while Plaintiff alleges the specific defect in Defendants’ product and specific warnings they failed to provide, he does not allege that Defendants failed to warn his own prescribing physician and that his own physician would not have used the Patch if warnings had been given.

Id. at *16-17.  Allegations about “‘physicians’ in general and the ‘healthcare community’” didn’t provide facts to suggest the existence of proximate causation.  Plaintiff needed to allege “facts as to his own prescribing physician.”  Id. at *17.

Continue Reading How Easy Is It to Allege Proximate Causation in a Medical Device Case

Warning:  You have heard all this before.

Still reading?  Okay.  But please don’t tell us later that our warning was inadequate and that you would have clicked over to Scotus or Grantland or TMZ if we had been more forthcoming.  As we have mentioned/kvetched what seems like 2814 times before (according to Blogger, that is how many posts we have put up — you’re welcome), most of the drug and device cases we encounter center around an allegation of failure to warn.  And most of those cases are weak and/or incoherent.  Yet most of those cases cost our clients a lot of money, if only because of the dysfunctional, asymmetrical meat-grinder called “discovery”.

Instead of ushering nuisance cases to the exit, too many courts are too inclined to find a purported issue of fact as to whether a warning is inadequate or whether a better warning would have made a difference.  Again, we’ve said it before and will doubtless say it again in the face of judicial obstinacy or lassitude, but courts should insist that plaintiffs state exactly what the warning should have been and show that such a warning would have prompted the doctor to make a different prescribing decision.

Continue Reading Lack of Warning Causation Dooms Aredia-Zometa Case