Roche Ordered to Pay $25 Million to Accutane User (Update2)

Bloomberg, February 16, 2010


Link to Original Press Artricle:

By David Voreacos and John Martin

Roche Holding AG, the Swiss drugmaker, must pay $25.16 million in damages to a former user of its Accutane drug who blamed the acne medicine for his inflammatory bowel disease, a New Jersey jury ruled.

Andrew McCarrell, 38, won the verdict today at a retrial in Atlantic City, New Jersey. An appeals court ordered the new trial after overturning a $2.62 million award he won in May 2007. McCarrell, a computer technician from Birmingham, Alabama, testified he got sick after taking the drug for acne in 1995. He needed five surgeries, including one to remove his colon.

“I never thought it would be like this,” McCarrell said after the verdict in state Superior Court. “Never in my wildest dreams.”

The verdict today was the largest of six for Accutane users who won awards totaling $56 million. Roche lost every case, although a Florida appeals court overturned one of those judgments for $7.2 million. In each case, plaintiffs claimed Roche failed to warn adequately of the risks.

Roche stopped selling the drug in June 2009, citing generic competition and the high cost of defending personal injury lawsuits. Roche faces almost 1,000 other lawsuits over Accutane.

Birth Defects

More than 13 million people took Accutane after it was introduced in 1982. The drug also has been associated with birth defects and depression. Accutane was made by Roche unit Hoffmann-LaRoche Inc. of Nutley, New Jersey.

In a statement, the company said it would appeal, as it has in all the other cases.

“Our sympathies remain with Andrew McCarrell over his disease,” Roche said in a statement. “Both the finding and the amount of damages were unsupported by the evidence. Roche acted appropriately in providing information about Accutane, including a direct warning about inflammatory bowel disease, to the medical, scientific and regulatory communities.”

The nine jurors deliberated for 3.5 hours today before ruling unanimously that McCarrell deserves $25 million in compensatory damages and $159,000 for past medical expenses. McCarrell claimed Roche violated New Jersey’s consumer fraud law.

‘Fair Amount’

Seven of the nine jurors agreed that Roche failed to provide an adequate warning, and that the company’s failure was a “proximate cause” of his inflammatory bowel disease.

“I think it’s a fair amount, I really do, considering all he’s been through these 15 years,” said juror Dorrine Simms.

Juror Vince Packer said, “It was all about the wording on the label. It didn’t give a clear-cut explanation as to what you can get by taking this drug. That’s my issue -- was it properly labeled?”

McCarrell attorney Michael Hook represents plaintiffs in hundreds of other Accutane cases. McCarrell gasped and hugged Hook after the jury foreman announced the award.

“Every single one of these cases could be like this,” Hook said outside the courtroom.

The trial, which began Jan. 7, was delayed for the past week because of a snowstorm and a court holiday.

The case is McCarrell v. Hoffmann LaRoche Inc., L-1951-03, New Jersey Superior Court, Atlantic County (Atlantic City).

To contact the reporters on this story: David Voreacos in Newark, New Jersey; John Martin in Atlantic City, New Jersey