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Accutane Crohn’s Disease Expert Testimony Barred by New Jersey Judge

Thousands of Accutane lawsuits filed in New Jersey state court involving allegations that the acne medication caused the development of Crohn’s disease may be impacted by a recent ruling, where the judge presiding over the litigation refused to allow key expert witnesses to testify. 

New Jersey Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson issued a ruling (PDF) on February 20, which bars testimony that linked the side effects of Accutane to incidents of Crohn’s disease.

Judge Johnson said the plaintiffs’ experts brought no reliable scientific evidence linking Accutane to the condition, indicating that the expert disregarded valid scientific research to do so.

“It is one thing to stand alone in the world of science, advancing a hypothesis that others do not except,” Johnson said in his ruling. “It is quite another thing to advance a hypothesis that can only be supported by disregarding valid scientific research.”

The loss of the expert witness testimony may leave some plaintiffs without a means of establishing that Accutane caused their Crohn’s disease injury.

Known generically as isotretinoin, Accutane has been linked to an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease, which could lead to ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or other damage to internal organs. This may cause former users of the acne medication to suffer severe stomach and gastrointestinal problems for years following use of the medication, resulting in pain and a devastating impact on their overall quality of life.

More than 6.700 people have filed an Accutane lawsuit against Roche, alleging that the drug maker failed to adequately warn about the risk of the gastrointestinal problems. Several early bellwether trials in the litigation have already resulted in multi-million dollar damage jury awards for instances of IBD from Accutane. However, Roche has continued to challenge those verdicts on appeal.

In August 2014, a federal appeals court overturned a $2 million verdict in an Accutane case brought by Gillian Gaghan, finding that since her doctor knew about Accutane IBD risks but failed to warn her, she could not accuse the company of failure to warn.

In March 2014, a New Jersey jury awarded $1.5 million in damages in another Accutane bowel disease lawsuit, involving a plaintiff diagnosed with IBD after using the acne medication. That case originally went to trial in 2010, resulting in a $10.5 million award that was overturned on appeal, after Roche challenged the original verdict, arguing that certain evidence was excluded that should have been presented to the jury.

Following the retrial, the jury found once again that Roche failed to adequately warn about the potential side effects of Accutane, which have been linked to the development of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

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