A New Jersey Appeals Court ruling will reinstate several thousand Accutane lawsuits, which were previously dismissed after the lower court wrongly determined that expert testimony linking the acne drug to an increased risk of Crohn’s disease was inadequate.
In an opinion (PDF) issued last week, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division found that the trial judge exceeded his authority when he excluded testimony from plaintiffs’ expert witnesses on gastroenterology and epidemiology, reviving 2,174 cases that were previously dismissed.
According to the ruling, Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson incorrectly determined that the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses were not using the best science when they called into question the findings of epidemiological studies brought forth by the defense.
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. These side effects have been linked to thousands of reports among former users of the acne medication who suffered severe stomach and gastrointestinal problems for years, resulting in pain and a devastating impact on their overall quality of life.
More than 6,700 people filed product liability lawsuits against Roche, alleging that the drug maker failed to adequately warn about the risk of Accutane side effects. Several early bellwether trials in the litigation resulted in multi-million dollar damage jury awards for instances of IBD from Accutane. However, Roche has continued to challenge those verdicts on appeal.
Thousands of those cases were dismissed in February 2015, following Judge Johnson’s ruling on the admissibility of expert testimony to support the Accutane Crohn’s disease lawsuits.
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.
The appeals court disagreed.
“The trial court took too narrow a view in determining whether the experts were using accepted scientific methodologies to analyze the evidence, and improperly determined the weight and credibility of the experts’ testimony,” the three-judge panel said in their decision. “Among other things, the judge inappropriately condemned the experts for relying on relevant scientific evidence other than epidemiological studies, despite their plausible explanations for doing do. Consequently, we conclude that the trial court mistakenly exercised discretion in barring the experts’ testimony.”
The cases have been reinstated and remanded back to New Jersey’s Atlantic County court.