Accutane Lawsuits Scheduled for Trial in New Jersey

A flurry of Accutane lawsuits will be going to trial this year in New Jersey state court, following an appeals court decision in August that reversed a $10.5 million verdict in one case and resulted in the delay of an Accutane trial involving three other cases.

There are currently more than 2,500 individuals who have filed an Accutane lawsuit over bowel problems in New Jersey state court. The cases have been centralized as part of a mass tort before Judge Carol E. Higbee in Atlantic County.

All of the claims involve allegations that Roche, the makers of the popular acne medication, failed to adequately warn about the risk of Accutane side effects, such as inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

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So far, the drug maker has lost all seven cases that have reached a jury in the litigation, with many resulting in multi-million dollar awards for Accutane damages.

In August, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division reversed a $10.5 million jury verdict in an Accutane lawsuit brought by Kamie Kendall, finding that Roche was wrongly prohibited from introducing evidence to the jury about the number of individuals who have used the acne medication over the years.

As a result of that decision, Judge Higbee delayed the start of an Accutane trial involving actor James Marshall, which was scheduled to begin the week the appellate court decision was released. Two other cases, Andrews v. Hoffman-La Roche, Inc. and Gaghan v. Hoffman-La Roche, Inc., were to be tried together with the Marshall case.

According to an Order issued December 22, Judge Higbee has rescheduled the Marshall, Gaghan and Andrews trial to begin with jury selection on February 14, 2011. A number of well-known Hollywood stars, such as Martin Sheen, Brian Dennehy and Rob Reiner, are expected to testify on behalf of Marshall, who portrayed a marine on trial for murder in “A Few Good Men.” Marshall claims that he suffered severe bowel problems from Accutane that resulted in the removal of his colon, ruining his acting career.

In the same order, Judge Higbee indicated that the retrial of the Kendall case, which was overturned on appeal, will begin with jury selection on May 10, 2011. At a case management conference this week, the Court is expected to select one or two additional Accutane suits that are compatible with the Kendall case to go to trial before the same jury.

Kendall was originally awarded $10.5 million at trial in 2008. However, a new jury will rehear the case and could award more, or less, compensation if they rule against the drug maker.

This is the second New Jersey jury verdict Roche was able to successfully overturn on appeal. The first involved a case filed by Andrew McCarrell, who was originally awarded $2.62 million at trial in 2007. After that verdict was overturned, another New Jersey jury awarded McCarrell more than $25 million in damages for inflammatory bowel disease from Accutane during the retrial in February 2010.

There is currently a pending petition for certification to the Supreme Court filed by Roche in the Kendall case. Judge Higbee has indicated that a group of four other compatible cases will be prepared for trial to begin on May 10, 2010 in the event the Supreme Court agrees to hear the further Kendall appeal. Otherwise, those cases are expected to be set for trial later in the year.

Accutane (isotretinoin) has been used by more than 16 million people worldwide since it was first introduced in the early 1980s as a treatment for severe acne. Roche discontinued Accutane in June 2009 due to the increasing costs of the litigation, but a number of generic versions remain available under names such as Claravis, Sotret, Amnesteem and generic isotretinoin.


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