A near $28 million jury award for an Xarelto patient was recently overturned in Pennsylvania. The case was the first courtroom victory for plaintiffs, following a series of cases falling in favor of the manufacturers of the blood thinning drug.
In December, a state court in Philadelphia awarded Lynn Hartman and her husband $27.8 million after finding that Bayer AG and Johnson & Johnson were responsible for the Xarelto patient’s internal bleeding. A bulk of the award — $26 million — was for punitive damages.
On Jan. 9, Judge Michael Erdos, of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, overturned the jury award following a hearing on Bayer AG and Johnson & Johnson’s motion to reverse the verdict. The judge also called out what he termed inappropriate social media postings from members of the plaintiff’s legal team.
According to the plaintiff’s attorney, Michael Weinkowitz, the judge’s reversal was based upon a “very narrow issue related to Mrs. Hartman’s prescribing physician.” The attorney said he still considered his client’s initial win a good sign for more than 2,000 cases pending in Philadelphia.
Xarelto Case Overturned, But Attorneys Not Deterred
Xarelto is a blood-thinning medication that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2011. The federal agency now links the drug to nearly 400 deaths.
The drug is marketed as a newer, better alternative to more traditional blood thinning medications, such as Warfarin. However, while internal bleeding complications due to Warfarin may be remedied with Vitamin K, there is no known reversal agent for such issues resulting from Xarelto use.
Xarelto is a top seller for both Bayer and Johnson & Johnson, netting the company’s $3.2 billion and $23 billion respectively in 2016. The medication is also being increasingly blamed for internal-bleeding related injuries; Johnson & Johnson reported a 27 percent spike in Xarelto claims in a recent SEC filing.
Across the country, patients have filed lawsuits that blame Xarelto for their injuries. More than 21,000 such suits have been filed nationally. About 2,000 await in Pennsylvania state court, where Hartman’s case was heard.
In earlier Xarelto cases — heard by federal juries in Mississippi and Louisiana — drug manufacturers had racked up a trio of wins. Hartman’s case, heard in state court in Philadelphia, was the first victory for an Xarelto plaintiff.
Hartman began taking Xarelto in 2013 to treat paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. She was ordered to stop taking the medication after suffering gastrointestinal bleeding.
Attorneys for the Indiana woman argued that Bayer AG and Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) failed to adequately warn patients about the risk of internal bleeding. They cited insufficient warning labels. Attorneys also argued that the drug manufacturers had manipulated clinical trials in order to downplay the risks of bleeding.
In early December, a Philadelphia state court agreed, awarding Hartman $27.8 million and offering an early Christmas present to the Xarelto plaintiffs awaiting their turn in Pennsylvania’s legal system.
Now, with Judge Erdos’s overturning that award, those patients may feel less optimistic about their chances in the state court. Michael Weinkowitz, an attorney for Hartman’s team, tried to alleviate their concerns following the overturning of his client’s award.
“This ruling regarding the defendants’ wrongful conduct — which resulted in the jury awarding $26 million in punitive damages — has far broader implications for the Xarelto litigation as a whole,” Weinkowitz said following the judges reversal. “We look forward to trying the next series of cases in Philadelphia.”
Judge Punishes ‘#KillinNazis’ Attorneys
Overturning Hartman’s award wasn’t the only decision Judge Erdos made in relation to this Xarelto case. He also admonished and levied punishments against two of the plaintiff’s attorneys.
In the motion to reverse the court’s decision, Bayer AG and Johnson & Johnson contended that attorneys for the plaintiff had attempted to link the German-based companies with Nazis. They pointed to social media posts from the attorneys which carried the hashtag #killinnazis.
While he did not cite the issue in connection to his overturning of the verdict, Judge Erdos did address the matter. He pointed specifically to a courtroom photo which had the hashtag, posted on Instagram by attorney Ned McWilliams, as well as another courtroom photo posted on social media (this time featuring the judge, but without the offending hashtag) by attorney Emily Jeffcott (who later used the photo promotionally).
The judge commented that such photo postings were “beneath the dignity of the legal profession.” He revoked McWilliams’ pro hac vice status, which allowed the Pensacola, Fla., lawyer to work the Pennsylvania Xarelto case, and also order Jeffcott to pay $2,500 and perform 25 hours of community service.