The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently ruled in favor of a woman seeking damages against a drug manufacturer after she suffered a condition known as “jaw death,” attributed to the defendant’s medications. She argues the drugmaker failed to warn her that the condition, osteonecrosis, might occur if she took the drugs.
Initially, the district court in Payne v. Novartis Pharm. Corp. granted summary judgment in favor of the defense, citing the medical community’s lack of knowledge of this problem in the early 2000s. However, the Sixth Circuit reversed, indicating that whether the company’s failure to warn was the cause of the woman’s injuries was a matter for a jury to decide.
Our Boca Raton product injury lawyers recognize this is one in a growing number of cases against this particular pharmaceutical firm, Novartis, which produces the bone drugs Aredia and Zometa.
Another plaintiff in a similar case recently secured $225,000 in compensatory damages, following the affirmation of a trial court verdict by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. In that case, a personal representative for the now-deceased plaintiff argued the woman was never warned by the drug manufacturer that use of those two drugs could cause her to develop osteonecrosis, or jaw death.
In that case, Winter v. Novartis Pharmeceuticals Corp., the defense argued it was not responsible for the woman’s condition because her doctor, the prescribing physician, testified he hadn’t read the warning labels or conveyed to her the possible dangers. Further, the company argued the plaintiff could have learned about the dangers in other ways.
The patient was prescribed the drug in 2003, while evidence showed the company had been aware of the drug’s dangers for at least a year at that point. At that time, the company was specifically instructing sales representatives not to reveal the connection between the medication and osteonecrosis of the jaw. The two drugs, given intravenously, are effective in preventing certain bone fractures and easing certain bone pains. However, they are also associated with osteonecrosis of the jaw, which causes the gums to be eaten away until the bone is exposed and then dies from lack of blood.
In the more recent case, Payne v. Novartis Pharm. Corp., the plaintiff appealed the summary judgment favoring the drug manufacturer.
The court conceded the issue of causation in these cases is a “knotty” one.
Here, the patient suffered from breast cancer that had spread to her bones. Her doctor, unaware of the risks of Aredia, prescribed it to his patient in 1999. In 2001, he switched her to Zometa. At that time, he still was not aware of a problem. The patient continued taking the medication until 2005, when the doctor noticed an issue with her jaw and advised her to seek dental treatment.
Ultimately, after several teeth were removed, the oral surgeon found the condition had progressed and part of her jaw was necrotic. It had to be removed.
The patient later sued the drug manufacturer, saying if she had known the risks of taking those two drugs, she would never have agreed to it.
The district court granted summary judgment on the grounds the drug maker’s alleged failure to warn didn’t proximately cause the patient’s condition. The Sixth Circuit disagreed and reversed.
Given the recent success of these cases and the severity of injuries, we fully expect to see more of these claims surface in the near future.
Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Payne v. Novartis Pharm. Corp., Aug. 18, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Force v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. – Sorting Which Survivors Are Entitled to Wrongful Death Damages, Aug. 7, 2014, Boca Raton Injury Lawyer Blog