Articles Posted in Appeals

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Depuy Pinnacle AppealNow it’s the plaintiffs’ turn. The five victims of the Depuy Pinnacle artificial hip have answered the appeal of Depuy Orthopaedics and Johnson & Johnson in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. And as they did at trial, the plaintiffs have come out fighting.

Recap of Depuy’s Appeal

A few weeks ago I wrote about the appeal brought by Depuy and Johnson & Johnson after a Texas jury awarded $502 million dollars to five plaintiffs. You can read about the Defendants’ appeal here. But to recap, Depuy and J&J argue that they were unfairly prejudiced by the plaintiffs’ team aggressive tactics at trial. They argue that Defendants are entitled to a new trial because the plaintiffs’ team had “a strategy” to “inflame the jury through highly prejudicial evidence and wholly inappropriate argument.”

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Fosamax user with broken femur
Osteoporosis is a disease where the human body’s bones become weaker. It is a common issue with women who have gone through menopause. The drug company Merck developed a drug called Fosamax (alendronate) hoping to prevent and treat osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.

As with all other drugs, Fosamax had side effects, one of which was actually increasing the risk of femoral (thigh) bone fractures. Thousands of users of Fosamax suffered this side effect and sued Merck.

Even though there were a lot of plaintiffs suing, many of their cases became consolidated into a multi-district litigation, or MDL, in New Jersey.

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Depuy Pinnacle TrialI will not forget my first jury trial. It was many years ago, not long after I graduated from law school, and let’s just say I was in over my head a bit. It was a simple car crash case. I represented a driver who was rear-ended and injured (but not seriously). I walked my client through his direct examination, and I thought it was going well. Then the insurance defense lawyer was given the opportunity to cross-examine my client. He asked simple questions about the severity of the injuries (“were you able to return to work a week later?”) and after eight or ten of these questions, I objected. The judge peered down at me over his reading glasses:

“Counselor?”
“Yes your honor, I object.”
“On what grounds?”
“This line of questioning is prejudicial.”
“Prejudicial?”
“Yes, your honor. I move to strike the testimony as prejudicial.”

The judge sat back in his chair. “Mr. Hodges, wouldn’t every question on cross-examination be prejudicial to your case?” This query reminded me of the complete language of Rule of Evidence 403: The court may “exclude relevant evidence if its value is substantially outweighed by a danger of . . . unfair prejudice.” I had remembered most of the rule, but not the key word: unfair. All evidence presented in any court case is supposed to be prejudicial to the other side’s case. To exclude evidence under Rule 403, the testimony must be unfairly prejudicial.

But the judge was still waiting for my answer. The jury waited too. I tried my best:
“Well, yes, your honor. But this testimony is unfairly prejudicial.” At least I had finally wedged in the key word.
“I don’t think so, counselor, objection overruled.”

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Transvaginal Mesh Appeal
I have written about the maddening ways a product liability case can go on (seemingly) forever. An injured person may wait years to get to a jury trial. And then, if the individual wins the trial and the jury awards a substantial amount of money for the plaintiff’s injuries, the product manufacturer will appeal. You can read about appeals here. But the appellate courts are not there solely to protect big business. When the injured person loses her jury trial, she also has the opportunity to appeal. Often this is more difficult for the individual than it is for the large corporation, which has much more money and time, but appeals courts are there, in theory, for all of us, the powerful and the less-powerful. A week ago, an injured woman won her appeal and was granted a second opportunity to try her transvaginal mesh (TVM) case against Boston Scientific Corporation, which she had lost in 2014.

Let’s back up.

Boston Scientific’s Pinnacle Pelvic Floor Repair Kit transvaginal mesh was implanted in Diane Albright in 2010 to treat her pelvic organ prolapse (POP). Rather than make her well, the TVM caused her many other problems and serious injuries. In 2012 Ms. Albright sued Boston Scientific Corporation in Massachusetts over its failure to warn of the risks of the Pinnacle mesh product, as well as the defective design of the mesh.

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Last week I wrote about the dreaded post-trial life of a product liability lawsuit. If an injured person wins the jury trial, and particularly if the jury awards a large amount of money, the plaintiff should expect to face an onslaught of post-trial motions and the inevitable appeal to the next highest appellate court.

That is exactly what happened in one of the first important Depuy ASR Hip trials in California.

The Jury Trial

Depuy ASR Jury TrialOn March 8, 2013, a jury in Los Angeles Superior Court awarded $8,338,236.12 for a man injured by the failure of the Depuy ASR Hip. Loren Kransky alleged that the Depuy ASR hip components were negligently designed, that the components had a design defect, and that Depuy failed to warn him and his doctors about the potential risks involved in implanting the device.

After a five-week trial in 2013, the jury in the California case awarded Mr. Kransky $338,236.12 in “economic damages” and $8,000,000.00 in “pain and suffering” damages. Jurors in the case found that the device was defective at the time of sale, and that it injured the plaintiff. The jury found in favor of Mr. Kransky and awarded damages for medical costs and for emotional suffering and distress.

The jury did not award punitive damages to Mr. Kransky. The jury did not find that Depuy acted with fraud or malice, which prevented an award of punitive damages. Which was good for Depuy, as Mr. Kransky’s legal team aggressively argued for punitive damages in amounts that could have exceeded $100,000,000.00.

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Product Liability Appeal

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, your lawsuit ain’t over till it’s over.

In a product liability case, most lawsuits end in a settlement. The plaintiff and the defendants work the case for a period of time, and eventually they sit down and hammer out a resolution to end the case. However, some product liability cases make it all the way to trial. I have written about jury verdicts in medical device and drug cases often on this site. Recently, for example, a young boy and his family won a whopping $70,000,000.00 verdict against Johnson & Johnson based on the boy’s disfigurement caused by the drug Risperdal. In that case, as in so many others, you may think that after years of litigation and after winning a complex jury trial that the plaintiff can finally leave the court system behind and get on with his life. But the case, sadly, may just be getting started. When medical device manufacturers and drug makers lose a big case with a large money award, expect them to throw the kitchen sink at you after the jury reaches its verdict. Let’s look a few things a defense team could do if it loses a big product liability case.

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On July 1, 2016 a jury in Philadelphia sent a very loud and angry message to Johnson & Johnson. After a lengthy trial, the jury awarded a young boy who grew breasts after taking the drug Risperdal a staggering $70,000,000.00. This verdict is far and away the largest money judgment awarded (yet) to a victim of the drug Risperdal. As one of the attorneys representing the disfigured child stated, “this verdict is a game-changer.” I think he is right.

But let’s back up.

What is Risperdal?

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They say justice delayed is justice denied. Apparently Judge Kinkeade in the Depuy Pinnacle Artificial Hip MDL thinks so. On June 10, 2016, Judge Kinkeade denied Depuy’s motion to delay all future trials until the company completes its appeal of a massive $500 million jury verdict.

Depuy Motion to Stay DeniedDepuy Orthopaedics and its parent company Johnson & Johnson filed their “motion to stay” on May 24, 2016. They asked the court to delay all further trials in the Depuy Pinnacle MDL until an appellate court rules on their appellate issues. (It is very common for a company in any case to appeal a trial verdict when the jury awards significant damages to the plaintiffs.) Depuy claimed there were significant errors made at the trial. Depuy also argued that the decision in the appeal could have “far-reaching implications” on how future Pinnacle cases are tried. Defendants claimed the “grounds for appeal are strong” and that they “acted appropriately and responsibly in the design and testing” of the devices.

Judge Kinkeade, who presides over the Depuy Pinnacle MDL in Dallas, Texas, denied the motion to stay the trials. In his order Judge Kinkeade selected seven bellwether cases to be tried beginning September 6, 2016. You can read that Order here.

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Depuy Seeks Delays in Pinnacle Hip TrialsA request by Depuy Orthopaedics Inc. to delay more trials concerning its Depuy Pinnacle hip implants is pending in the federal court in charge of thousands of cases against the company. The request came from Depuy on May 24. Depuy asks the Court to hold off on further trials until an appeal of one large case tried in March is resolved. That case, which I wrote about here and here, resulted in a stunning $502 million verdict for five people injured by the defective artificial hip components. So Depuy is plainly motivated to delay, if not overturn, the award. If the request is granted it will take much longer for other plaintiffs to have their cases tried, as complex appeals like this one can take years to resolve. As the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied. I hope federal judge Ed Kinkeade in Texas denies Depuy’s motion. These remaining cases deserve their day in court.

Depuy and the other defendants claim their planned appeal could have “far-reaching implications” on how future cases are tried. Defendants claim the “grounds for appeal are strong” and that they “acted appropriately and responsibly in the design and testing” of the devices.

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(Part 6)

Woman Suffering From Transvaginal Mesh ImplantLet’s get back to a look at recent developments with transvaginal mesh lawsuits. In two big victories recently, a Georgia jury awarded $4.4 million to a woman injured by transvaginal mesh, and a New Jersey appeals court upheld an $11.11 million dollar jury verdict.

Transvaginal mesh (TVM) is a plastic mesh product that has been implanted in women for many years to support weakened vaginal walls. Many women suffer from pelvic organ prolapse or stress urinary incontinence, and makers of TVM have insisted that TVM could repair these medical problems. Unfortunately, not long after TVM was marketed and sold, women began complaining of serious health problems, including erosion of the vaginal wall, infections, painful sex, and bladder perforation. The lawsuits followed.

Now let’s take a look at a recent jury trial and an appeal decision of an earlier jury verdict.

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