No Cause for Panic in Defense Verdict in the First Xarelto Bellwether Trial

John Ray
“The decisions made in the boardroom of pharmaceutical companies with regard to settling mass litigation cases often have very little to do with the ‘legal’ aspects of the case, and although bellwether trials results are not insignificant, they are not as significant as one might assume.”

Within minutes of the defense verdict being handed down in the first Xarelto bellwether trial, (Boudreaux vs Bayer et.al., Case No. 2:14-cv-02720) the phone lines at Mass Tort Nexus began ringing like a Salvation Army donation site at Christmas.

The primary inquiry was the same: “What effect does the Boudreaux defense verdict have on the overall prospects of the Xarelto litigation?”

Our website www.masstortnexus.com already contained all of the pretrial documents for the Boudreaux case and we ordered an expedited copy of the Boudreaux transcript so that our researchers could get the complete picture and start an autopsy of the case.

If you are a Mass Tort Nexus subscriber you may obtain all documents, including the 1,600+ page transcript from the Boudreaux bellwether trial here.

Before going further, it is important to say to any plaintiff lawyer representing clients in the Xarelto litigation who may be freaking out due to the defense verdict in the first bellwether trial: put the cap back on the Xanax.

In fact, the plaintiff may well lose the second bellwether trial as well, because it appears that the Dr. St. James, the prescribing physician in the Orr case (the second Xarelto bellwether trial set for May 30, Joseph Orr, Jr., Case No. 2:15-cv-03708), is likely to testify in a very similar manner to Dr. Wong, (the prescribing physician in the Boudreaux bellwether case).

Regardless, keep your feet firmly planted on the rail of that bridge you may be thinking of jumping off of. Panic would be extremely premature.

Mass Tort Nexus became aware of how Dr. Wong and Dr. St. James were likely to testify as a result of the motion for summary judgment based on the learned intermediary doctrine filed by the defense revealing deposition testimony of Dr. Wong and Dr. St. James. Both prescribing physicians testified as if someone had given them a script entitled “How a prescribing physician should testify to support a learned intermediary doctrine defense.”

The defense motion for summary judgment was denied as under Louisiana’s version of the learned intermediary doctrine, because the relevant issues are considered matters for a jury to decide under Louisiana Law.  Louisiana law applied because both the Boudreaux and the Orr case state of “original jurisdiction” was Louisiana. This had nothing to do with the fact that the MDL is consolidated in Louisiana nor will Louisiana law apply to cases where other states would be the state of “original jurisdiction.”

The Answer to the $64,000 Question

The simple answer to the question, regarding the defense verdict in the first Xarelto bellwether, is that the Boudreaux verdict has no direct impact on any other case other than the case brought on behalf of Joseph Boudreaux.

As to the indirect impact Boudreaux verdict on the overall Xarelto litigation, the analysis must be broadened.

First, the fact that defense based its entire strategy on the learned intermediary doctrine, could be somewhat telling about the defendants and their counsel’s belief that they would prevail under other defense theories. The learned intermediary doctrine is considered by many to be a defense of last resort. When possible, the goal of defendants in pharmaceutical and medical device cases should be to obtain dismissal of every single plaintiff’s case in a mass litigation via preemption or other universal case-killer legal theory. This goal will never be achieved through the learned intermediary doctrine defense.

The learned intermediary doctrine provides that a manufacturer of a product has fulfilled his duty of care when he provides all the necessary information to a “learned intermediary” who then interacts with the consumer of a product.

Although most states have codified some version of the doctrine and the reasoning behind it has been applied in individual cases in all 50 States, it is safe to say that not all states have applied the doctrine in the same manner.

More important is that the learned intermediary doctrine defense is entirely dependent on the testimony of the individual prescribing physician in any given plaintiff’s case. To prevail with the learned intermediary doctrine defense, the prescribing physician must testify, very specifically, in one of two manners:

  1. That the doctor was aware of all the risks associated with the drug and continued to believe that the benefits outweighed the risks with regard to the individual plaintiff (patient).
  2. That any risk not known at the time the doctor prescribed the drug, if known, would not have changed her decision with regard to prescribing the drug for the individual plaintiff patient.

16,285 additional complaints

Plaintiffs and their counsel can safely assume that many of the prescribing physicians for the 39 remaining scheduled Xarelto bellwether cases will not all testify in a manner supporting a learned intermediary doctrine defense. Beyond the 39 bellwether cases, defense has 16,285 (and climbing) additional complaints to contend with. Are all the prescribing physicians in the other 17,000 plus complaints going to fiddle to the music of the learned intermediary doctrine defense? Not bloody likely.

In the Xarelto bellwether trial selection, Judge Eldon Fallon allowed the defense to pick 10 cases, allowed the plaintiffs to pick 10 cases and Judge Fallon selected the remaining 20 cases himself. Plaintiffs are not facing a situation where defense was able to load the bellwether selection with cases in which the individual prescribing physicians gave depositions or otherwise indicated that they would eventually testify by the script the defendants need to prevail under a learned intermediary defense.

In cases where the prescribing physician cannot be counted on to follow the defendants’ learned intermediary doctrine script, the defendant and counsel will be forced to base their arguments on the merits of the case. Without the learned intermediary doctrine knockout, the merits of the Xarelto case favor defense looking as if it was in a fight with Joe Frazier followed by a fight with Mike Tyson.

Putting aside the foregoing, a review of past MDL pharmaceutical product liability bellwether verdicts in which defense has prevailed in the first trial and often in the majority of the bellwether cases may allow some plaintiff lawyers to put the first Xarelto bellwether defense verdict in perspective and take comfort.

39 bellwethers to go

Note: If the prescribing physician takes the stand wearing a Rolex with the defendants’ logo inscribed on the back, no matter how good the case or counsel may be, the plaintiff is probably not going to fare well. Fortunately, in the Xarelto litigation, there are 39 more bellwether trials to go.

If the defense does not settle those 39 cases, there will likely be more bellwethers scheduled. If Judge Fallon at some point determines that the litigation is not going to result in settlement, he could remand all remaining cases for trial.

The only other possible outcome is for the defense to find a way to get all Xarelto cases dismissed on a creative legal theory (which does not exist in the Xarelto case). It is safe to say, we are past the point where all Xarelto cases will be universally dismissed under any legal theory.

Anyone who has attended the Four Days to Mass Tort Success Course has heard me say, “The decisions made in the boardroom of pharmaceutical companies with regard to settling mass litigation cases often have very little to do with the ‘legal’ aspects of the case and although bellwether trials results are not insignificant, they are not as significant as one might assume.”

What is the likely future of the Xarelto bellwether trials? The defense will win some, the plaintiffs will win some and in the final analysis, these wins and losses will not be the primary factor in the defendant’s decision to settle the case. We apologize to anyone who was under the false impression that Big Pharma makes any decision that is not based on the bottom line, including their decision to put dangerous products on the market in the first place. Ultimately it is unlikely that a scenario will appear where the math for the defendant will not favor mass settlement.

Below is a sampling of cases where the first bellwether trial resulted in a defense verdict or the majority of bellwether trials resulted in defense verdicts and yet, the litigation ended in mass settlement.

Bellwether Defense Wins and Settlements

Vioxx MDL 1657

Of the six bellwether trials that occurred in the Vioxx MDL the first bellwether trial ended in a defense verdict. The other five bellwether trials ended in three more defense verdicts, one trial ended in a hung jury and the plaintiffs won only one of the six bellwether trials. Ten additional trials occurred outside of the MDL. Of the total 16 trials that occurred in the Vioxx product liability litigation, 11 resulted in defense verdicts.

The defendant ultimately agreed to settle the vast majority of Vioxx cases for an estimated $4.8 billion.

72 Defense firms participated in the Vioxx product liability defense. According to documents filed on behalf of these firms, the total hours billed for all firms was 350,000 hours. Using a blended rate including averages for partners, associates and other personnel of $475 per hour. The defendant’s legal fees were about $165,550,000.

If you are doing the math, inclusive of the legal fees paid for the defendant’s legal fees in the MDL and the 16 Vioxx trials, the defendant spent on average $10,343,750 per tried case. Winning does not feel that great when your own lawyers dip their hands deeper into your pocket than the opposition.

MDL 1355 Propulsid

The first bellwether trial resulted in a defense verdict. The second and third bellwether trials resulted in defense motions for summary judgment being granted.

The defendant Johnson & Johnson ultimately settled with the majority of the plaintiffs in the Propulsid litigation for an estimated $100 million.

Prempro Product Liability Litigation

The first bellwether trial resulted in a defense verdict. The defendant went on to win the majority of the 15 bellwether trials.

Ultimately the defendant settled the vast majority of the plaintiffs’ cases for about $1 billion.

NuvaRing Litigation Product Liability Litigation MDL 1964

Defense summary judgment granted in all Group I bellwether cases. The defendant agreed to settle the majority of NuvaRing cases for approximately $100 million.

Traysol Product Liability Litigation MDL 1928

The first two bellwether trials were dismissed on a defense motion for summary judgment. The defendant Bayer ultimately settled the Traysol Litigation for an average of approximately $400,000 per plaintiff.

Actos Product Liability Litigation MDL 2299

The first three bellwether trials resulted in plaintiff’s verdicts with jury awards of $6.5 million, $1.76 million and $2.05 million. The fourth bellwether trial resulted in a defense verdict. Takeda settled Actos cases for a total of approximately $2.4 billion.

Fen-Phen Product Liability Litigation MDL 1023

Despite having prevailed in many bellwether trials including Weston v. Wyeth, No. 03-CV-679878 (Jasper Co., Mo., Cir. Ct. 2006). Geers v. Wyeth, No. MO-03-CA-107-H (W.D. Texas 2006), Townley v. Wyeth, Nos. 0402-03094 and 0402-03171 (Philadelphia Co., Pa., Ct. C.P. 2006), Smith v. American Home Products, No. 97-55545 as well as others — Wyeth ultimately settled the Fen-Phen Litigation for approximately $2.74 billion.

John Ray

John Ray has been a leading consultant to the Mass Tort industry for over a decade. His unique skill sets make him well suited to both teaching and consulting in the Mass Tort arena. As a 21-year old graduate of Brenau University in Atlanta, John graduated Magna Cum Laude and started a pharmaceutical and medical device company right out of school, selling it in an eight-figure deal when he was 35. John’s tenure in the pharmaceutical and medical device field allowed him to gain an in-depth understanding of FDA regulatory matters, as well as, a thorough understanding of the science and epidemiology related to gaining FDA approval to market pharmaceuticals and medical devices. John’s inside knowledge of how “Big Pharma” operates gives him a unique perspective and skill sets that are very useful to Mass Tort plaintiff firms. When John brought his “insider knowledge” and business acumen to the Plaintiff Mass Tort Space, one of the first things he recognized was a lack of common terminology and well defined metrics. John realized that firms were expressing the same concepts, but were not using the same terminology. As a result, John set out to define common terms and create methods for formulating important metrics for use by Mass Tort firms when evaluating litigations. The terminology and metrics John Ray developed are now commonly used by major Mass Tort Law firms. John is highly sought after and writes White Papers about both current and emerging torts, which are highly coveted in the industry. The accuracy of John’s analysis of emerging and ongoing litigations is unmatched. The fact that John not an attorney has proven to be an asset. John thinks like a business person, employing creative problem solving and possesses an extensive set of business skills and industry specific knowledge. He assists Mass Tort firms in making sound business decisions before and during any litigation they are involved in or are considering becoming involved in. John is an expert at evaluating cases and looks at each tort as an individual “investment,” which can be quantified resulting in risk mitigation for you and your firm.

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