Judge Upholds $25M Award in Accutane Bowel Disease Lawsuit

A New Jersey judge has rejected Roche’s request for a new trial or reduction of a jury’s award of more than $25 million in damages for a man who developed severe inflammatory bowel disease from Accutane.

In an order issued last week, Judge Carol Higbee denied Roche’s request for a new trial or remittitur in a case brought by Andrew McCarrell, which was one of the first Accutane lawsuits in the United States to reach a jury.

McCarrell’s Accutane bowel disease suit was originally filed in 2003 and first went to trial in April 2007, resulting in a jury award of $2,619,000. However, following an appeal the verdict was overturned and the case was remanded for a new trial so that Roche would be permitted to introduce evidence on the total number of Accutane uses.

Following a second trial in January 2010, another New Jersey state court jury awarded McCarrell $159,540.19 to cover his medical bills and another $25 million in compensation for pain and suffering damages caused by Accutane.

After taking the popular acne medication for several months in 1995 for treatment of acne, McCarrell alleged that he developed inflammatory bowel disease from Accutane side effects. He ultimately underwent five surgeries, had to have his colon removed, and has been left with permanent bowel problems from Accutane that cause him daily pain and anguish.

Roche challenged the second trial on several grounds, seeking yet another new trial or, in the alternative, a reduction in the damages awarded to McCarrell.

In a 47 page opinion issued September 12, Judge Higbee denied Roche’s requests, indicating that while the award was more than she may have returned, she found no sense of “wrongness” in the jury’s award.

“[McCarrell’s] testimony and that of his wife and doctors presented a picture of probably the worst case of pain, suffering and loss of quality of life I ever heard described on my eighteen years on the bench,” Higbee wrote in her decision. “The second was another Accutane case where the jury found no proximate cause so there was no award.”

Judge Higbee is overseeing all of the Accutane litigation in New Jersey state court, which has been centralized as a mass tort in Atlantic County. There are currently at least 5,313 lawsuits over Accutane that have been filed in New Jersey state court.

The other case Judge Higbee was likely referencing in the opinion was an Accutane suit filed by actor James Marshall, which went to trial earlier that year. Marshall, who is best known for his role as a young marine on trial for murder in the movie “A Few Good Men”, had to have his colon removed due to bowel problems that developed after taking Accutane, ending his promising acting career.

Although the jury that heard Marshall’s case awarded $2 million in damages to one of the co-plaintiffs who went to trial at the same time, Roche obtained a defense verdict in the actor’s case when the jury found that Accutane was not a substantial factor in his development of inflammatory bowel disease.

Additional groupings of Accutane trials are scheduled to begin in New Jersey state court next month and in January 2012.

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