Following the first week of testimony, a mistrial was declared in the first Fosamax fracture lawsuit to go before a jury after the plaintiff reportedly suffered a heart attack over the weekend.
Judge Carol Higbee declared a mistrial on Monday, after it was determined that the plaintiff, Christina Su, would be unable to continue with the trial following an apparent heart attack suffered on Sunday.
The case had been closely watched by product liability lawyers nationwide, as it was the first lawsuit involving femur fractures from Fosamax to go to trial in the United States.
Merck currently faces hundreds of similar lawsuits that allege the drug maker failed to adequately warn about the risk of low-trauma femur fractures that users may suffer as a result of Fosamax side effects. Although the drug is taken to prevent fractures associated with osteoporosis, long-term use has been linked to an increased risk of broken femurs that typically occur while the user is simply taking a step or falls from standing height or less.
A re-trial is likely to be scheduled once Su has sufficiently recovered. According to a press release issued by Merck following the mistrial, Su’s health condition was unrelated to her prior use of Fosamax.
Femur Fracture Claims Dominate Fosamax Litigation
Su’s lawsuit is one of more than 2,500 claims pending against Merck in New Jersey state court that allege the drug maker failed to adequately research the side effects of Fosamax or warn about the risks that users may face following long-term use. All of the complaints have been centralized before Judge Higbee in the Superior Court of New Jersey for Atlantic County, as part of a “multi-county litigation.”
While many of the older cases pending in the state involve plaintiffs who suffered jaw damage from Fosamax, the vast majority of the complaints filed in recent years have been brought by individuals who suffered an typical femur fracture on Fosamax, where they suffered a complete break of the thigh bone following a minimal trauma that would not typically fracture the femur.
Fosamax (alendronate sodium) was introduced by Merck in 1995, for treatment and prevention of osteoporosis. Before it became available as a generic in 2008, the medication generated over $3 billion in annual sales and was used by millions of Americans.
Most of the complaints were filed after the FDA required Merck to add new warnings about the risk of bone fractures from Fosamax in October 2010. These warnings provided new information for consumers and the medical community about the importance of identifying symptoms of new hip or groin pain, which could occur before an atypical fracture of the femur.
Last year, the FDA issued new recommended guidelines for taking Fosamax and other similar oral bisphophonate medications, such as Actonel and Boniva. The agency suggested that users should consider limiting the medications to a three to five year period, which may allow individuals to reduce the risks of side effects associated with long-term use, while continuing to receive benefits for osteoporosis.
Earlier this month, a study published in the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery established a causal link between nonhealing femur fractures and Fosamax.
Following the mistrial granted in the Su case, it now appears that the next Fosamax femur fracture lawsuit that will go before a jury will begin on April 8. However, that claim is a federal lawsuit that will be tried in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, where hundreds of additional complaints filed in the federal court system have been centralized as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.