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Motion for New Trial Denied In Levaquin Lawsuit, Despite Juror Issue

A federal judge has denied a request for a new trial filed by a plaintiff who received a defense verdict in one of the first Levaquin lawsuits to reach a jury, rejecting the argument that a new trial was warranted because it was discovered that one of the jurors had business dealings with the drug’s maker. 

Clifford Straka moved for a new trial after a he was unsuccessful in his attempt to obtain damages for a tendon rupture that was allegedly caused by side effects of Levaquin.

In January, a jury determined that the drug maker failed to properly warn consumers about the risk of tendon damage from Levaquin, but found that the failure to warn was not the Straka’s injury.

After the trial was concluded, but before the jury began its deliberations, one of the jurors discovered that her company, BMI, worked for the disability insurance carrier for Johnson & Johnson, Reed Group. The juror indicated that she was unaware of the relationship until she returned to her office for a day of work before deliberations began.

The juror told the court, but also said that the relationship would not affect her ability to be fair and impartial. The plaintiff’s legal team moved to have the juror removed, but Judge John R. Tunheim refused, due to the nature of the relationship and the juror’s testimony that she could be fair.

In an order (PDF) issued last week, Judge Tunheim rejected a post-trial motion for a retrial due to the juror issue, determining that the juror’s employment does not meet the required legal test that the relationship be so extreme as to be “highly unlikely” that a juror could remain impartial.

Judge Tunheim also rejected arguments that the evidence went against the jury’s decision and that the jury was not properly instructed.

Next Trial in Levaquin Litigation Slated for March 2013

Levaquin (levofloxacin) is one of the best selling antibiotics in the United States, which is prescribed to prevent infection by stopping the reproduction of bacteria. 

Johnson & Johnson and their Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals subsidiary currently face about 4,000 lawsuits over tendon ruptures from Levaquin brought by individuals throughout the United States.  All of the complaints involve similar allegations that the drug maker failed to adequately warn about the risks associated with the medication, or provide information to consumers and the medical community that the medications should be stopped if tendon pain develops while taking the antibiotic.

Judge Tunheim presides over the federal Levaquin litigation, which has been consolidated for pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation which is centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. There are currently about 1,800 cases pending in the MDL, with most of the remaining 2,000 lawsuits centralized in New Jersey state court.

Straka’s lawsuit was scheduled for an early trial date, known as a “bellwether” trial, because the outcome of the trial may allow the parties to gauge how jurors are likely to respond to testimony and evidence that will likely be offered in multiple cases.

The case was the fourth to reach a jury in the U.S., and the third straight win for Johnson & Johnson.

In December 2010, the first trial ended in a $1.8 million award for the plaintiff, including punitive damages to punish the drug maker for their conduct. However, the drug maker successfully defended the second trial, which ended in June 2011, and the third trial, which ended in October.

A status conference was held in the federal Levaquin MDL on October 1, where the court discussed the preparations for the next scheduled trial, set for March 2013.

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