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A Pennsylvania state court judge has overturned a recent jury verdict, which awarded nearly $28 million to a woman who experienced bleeding complications from Xarelto, indicating that insufficient evidence was presented at trial to justify the award.
The verdict was viewed as a “bellwether” for thousands of pending in courts nationwide, providing a gauge for how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout other claims.
The case involved a lawsuit filed by Lynn Hartman, who experienced severe gastrointestinal bleeding after using Xarelto, alleging that the manufacturers of the controversial anticoagulant failed to adequately warn consumers and the medical community about the bleeding risks.
A Philadelphia jury found that Hartmann was entitled to $1.8 million in compensatory damages, as well as another $26 million in punitive damages, which were intended to punish the drug makers for recklessly disregarding the health and safety of consumers.
Earlier this week, Judge Michael Erdos, of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas granted a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, proposed by the pharmaceutical companies responsible for the development and sale of Xarelto. The decision means that the judge found that a reasonable jury would not have made a decision to find the makers of Xarelto liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.
Xarelto (rivaroxoaban) was introduced in 2011, as the second member of a new class of drugs known as novel oral anticoagulants. The drugs were were marketed as easier to use than warfarin, which had been the go-to anti-clotting treatment for decades. However, as an alarming number of adverse event reports involving severe and often fatal bleeding problems began to emerge, a mounting number of lawsuits began to be filed against the drugs manufacturers, with nearly 20,000 Xarelto cases currently pending nationwide.
Each of the claims raise similar allegations involving uncontrollable gastrointestinal bleeding, brain bleeds or other injuries that occurred after doctors were unable to stop hemorrhaging among users of Xarelto. Plaintiffs claim that the drug makers provided false and misleading information for consumers and the medical community, failing to adequately warn about the risks associated with their medication.
The jury verdict returned in Hartman’s case was overturned by Erdos based on testimony by Hartman’s prescribing doctor, who indicated that Xarelto was marketed as a drug that did not require patients to take a prothrombin test (PT), to test for coagulation levels. The doctor said that if she had given Hartman a PT, she would have told her about the risks of bleeding events on Xarelto, and Hartman would have likely decided to use a different drug.
Erdos found that the doctor’s testimony was purely speculative. However, even though Erdos overturned the verdict, he determined that there had been sufficient evidence for the jury to hit Bayer and Johnson & Johnson with punitive damages. While that does not affect the decision in Hartman’s case, it does carry implication for hundreds of other cases pending in Pennsylvania courts, which will be allowed to continue to seek punitive damages in future Xarelto trials in the state.
Before it was overturned, the verdict was the first victory for plaintiffs, after three prior federal trials resulted in defense verdicts. However, additional bellwether trials are expected to help the parties gauge how different juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.
While the outcomes of these early bellwether trials are not binding on other plaintiffs with claims bending, they are closely watched by the parties, and may influence Xarelto settlements, which would be necessary to avoid the need for thousands of individual trials nationwide.