Defense Victory in Bellwether Drug Trial Affirmed

A state appeals court recently upheld a judgment for defendant in the first bellwether trial in consolidated litigation in New Jersey over claims concerning the cancer drugs Aredia and Zometa. See Bessemer et al. v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., No. A-2069-10T1 (Sup. Ct. NJ, App. Div.)


Plaintiff allegedly developed osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ), and had sued alleging that defendant knew or should have known that Aredia and Zometa could cause ONJ and should have issued warnings to plaintiff and her treating dentists and oral surgeons, as well as to her prescribing oncologist.  The jury returned a verdict in defendant's favor; plaintiff appealed claiming that the pre-trial grant of partial summary judgment to defendant constituted reversible error. The trial judge had decided that defendant had no duty to warn non-prescribing dentists or oral surgeons under the NY Product Liability Act. The trial judge applied the learned intermediary doctrine, rejecting plaintiff's allegation that the so-called DTC exception applied pursuant to Perez v. Wyeth Laboratories Inc., 161 N.J. 1, 14-15 (1999).

The court of appeals affirmed the "well-considered and thorough opinions" of the trial court. The two relevant opinions are: Bessemer v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., 2010 WL 6052544 (N.J. Super. L.D. Nov. 12, 2010) (denying post trial motion), and Bessemer v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., 2010 WL 6257855 (N.J. Super. L.D. April 30, 2010) (partial summary judgment).

Thus, the direct-to-consumer advertising exception to the learned intermediary doctrine did not apply to plaintiff; even if the drug was advertised to consumers, and even if plaintiff had seen a magazine advertisement for Zometa while taking the drug, it was not a substantial factor in her use of the medication.  The appeals court ruling also confirms that the defendant did not have a duty to warn dentists and oral surgeons (that is, doctors in a different field) of the drugs' possible risks, in addition to actual prescribing physicians.