Zometa Jaw Necrosis Lawsuit Results in $3.2M Verdict

A Montana jury has awarded $3.2 million to a woman who suffered debilitating jaw necrosis from Zometa, a bone strengthening drug prescribed to many cancer patients.

The Zometa lawsuit was the first of about 550 cases to go to trial against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. All of the claims involve similar allegations that the drug maker failed to adequately warn that Zometa side effects can cause osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ), a condition that causes the jawbone to decay and deteriorate.

The Montana case has been closely monitored by product liability lawyers throughout the United States, as the outcome could be a sign of how juries in other courts will respond to the evidence presented. Most of the other lawsuits over Zometa are consolidated in federal court in Tennessee or state court in New Jersey.

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Following a five-day trial and eight hours of deliberation, the Missoula County District Court jury handing down the verdict on Wednesday, according to a report in The Missoulian.

The lawsuit was brought by Peggy L. Stevens, 57, who alleged that she developed Zometa jaw necrosis after receiving the drug intravenously for three years as part of a battle with lymphoma. Stevens claimed that she developed the jaw disorder after she had a tooth pulled. The condition typically results in severe jaw pain, loosening of the teeth, exposed bone in the mouth and jaw infections.

Zometa (zoledronic acid) is an intravenous injection that is used to reduce bone complications associated with multiple myeloma and bone metastases from solid tumors. Although it is used to strengthen bones, it is part of a class of medications known as bisphosphonates, which have been associated with decay of the jawbone.

The cases are similar to more than 900 Fosamax jaw necrosis lawsuits that are pending against Merck & Co. over their oral bisphosphonate medication. Fosamax is used to reduce the risk of bone fractures associated with osteoporosis, but has also been linked to an increased risk of jaw osteonecrosis. The first Fosamax trial resulted in a mistrial last month in New York after jurors failed to come to a unanimous decision. The next Fosamax case is scheduled for January 2010.

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