J&J Wins Xarelto Bellwether, but Pays for Talc & Mesh

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The company still faces thousands of talc and Xarelto lawsuits, and hundreds for transvaginal mesh.

Johnson & Johnson has been on a litigation rollercoaster after receiving major verdicts for talcum powder, transvaginal mesh, and Xarelto.

While the latest talc and transvaginal mesh verdicts were favorable for plaintiffs, Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals was cleared of allegations in the first Xarelto bellwether.

Despite the outcomes of these verdicts, Johnson & Johnson still has a long road ahead of them before they are free from litigation. The company still faces thousands of pending talc and Xarelto lawsuits, and hundreds for transvaginal mesh.

Laura Yaeger, an attorney who specializes in complex litigation for defective drugs and medical devices, warns that large verdicts aren’t necessarily a clear indicator of future settlements or trial wins when you are talking about a defendant like Johnson & Johnson.

“Johnson & Johnson is known to fight hard in litigation despite verdicts,” she told us.

$110M Talcum Powder Verdict is the Highest Yet

On May 4, Johnson & Johnson was hit with its highest verdict yet for talcum powder: $110 million, including $5.4 million in compensatory damages and $105 million in punitive damages. A St. Louis jury sided with Lois Slemp, who alleged her ovarian cancer was caused by using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and shower-to-shower powder products for four decades.

Ms. Slemp’s attorneys presented studies linking ovarian cancer to talcum powder use, and alleged that Johnson & Johnson’s executives were aware of the risks. 

“They chose to put profits over people, spending millions in efforts to manipulate scientific and regulatory scrutiny,” said Ted Meadows, co-lead counsel for Ms. Slemp. “I hope this verdict prompts J&J to acknowledge the facts and help educate the medical community and the public about the proper use of their products.”

The verdict comes after a string of major talc losses for Johnson & Johnson, including three substantial verdicts last year: $72 million in February, $55 million in May, and $70 million last October. These lawsuits similarly alleged that executives knew of talc’s cancer risk but failed to warn the public and medical community.

The company still has 2,500 cases to battle in the Missouri multidistrict litigation (MDL), and have already said they will appeal the $110 million verdict.

J&J Subsidiary Hit with $20M Mesh Verdict

Just days before the record-breaking talc verdict, Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary Ethicon was hit with its third multi-million dollar verdict for its TVT-Secur device, a type of transvaginal mesh.  

A jury in the Philadelphia mass tort awarded Peggy Engleman $20 million ($2.5 million in compensatory damages and $17.5 million in punitive damages) for the ongoing complications she still suffers from the device, including chronic vaginal pain, permanent urinary dysfunction, and pelvic floor spasms.

“While verdicts are important to the litigation, there is still work to be done.”

Ms. Engleman received the device in 2007 for stress urinary incontinence. But within a month, she alleged the device failed and began to erode in her body. She underwent three surgeries to remove the device, but physicians were unable to remove it in its entirety. 

It’s a story that is sadly too common among plaintiffs, and it’s not the first time Johnson & Johnson has shelled out millions for the mesh. They were hit with a $12.5 million verdict in 2015 and a $13.5 million verdict in 2016. 

“While verdicts are important to the litigation, there is still work to be done,” said Yaeger. “I expect J&J to appeal the transvaginal mesh verdict and continue their hard press to litigate the cases.”

Plaintiffs Attorneys Still Hopeful After First Xarelto Trial

Amid the headlining verdicts came a somewhat rare victory for Johnson & Johnson when they won the first Xarelto bellwether on May 3.

Xarelto is manufactured by Bayer but marketed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary. The blood thinner has been linked to reports of uncontrollable bleeding in patients, for which there is no antidote. 

14,000 of the nearly 18,000 Xarelto lawsuits are consolidated in a federal court in New Orleans under the jurisdiction of Judge Eldon Fallon. The other cases are consolidated in Pennsylvania and Delaware state courts.

The first bellwether in the New Orleans MDL was filed by Joseph Boudreaux who suffered gastrointestinal bleeding after taking Xarelto for irregular heartbeats and a high risk of stroke. The internal bleeding was so serious that it resulted in a week-long stay in the ICU and required blood transfusions and multiple heart procedures.

Boudreaux’s suit rested on one allegation: That his cardiologist didn’t receive proper safety information for prescribing Xarelto. Specifically, the lawsuit alleged, Bayer and Janssen should have instructed physicians to perform tests to assess the bleeding risk of patients. However, the jury did not find Bayer and Janssen liable for these failure to warn claims.

The narrow scope of Boudreaux’s claims make it hard to predict the outcomes of the remaining three bellwethers, some attorneys point out.

“As plaintiffs lawyers, we wonder what it looks like if the full set of claims were there—here, it ended up being very limited to just this additional testing issue,” plaintiffs attorney Max Kennerly told Law360.

The next bellwether is scheduled for the end of May. The lawsuit was filed by Joseph Orr who alleges his wife died from a brain hemorrhage caused by taking Xarelto. In addition to accusing the company of failure to warn, the suit also claims the medication lacked a reversal agent for fatal bleeding incidents.

Johnson & Johnson may have pledged to keep fighting, but so have our attorneys. If you or a loved one suffered injuries from a medication or medical device, contact us for a free, no-obligation legal review.

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