Facing thousands of Accutane claims, Roche wins appeal of $18M jury verdict

Roche won another reprieve in its fight against Accutane safety claims. The Swiss-based drugmaker persuaded a New Jersey appeals court to overturn an $18 million jury verdict in favor of two Accutane plaintiffs.

The Appellate Division ruled Friday that the trial court judge “seriously erred” in allowing some revelations in court while restricting others. The judge’s mistakes were weighty enough to warrant a new trial, the New Jersey Law Journal reports.

It’s the latest in a series of victories on appeal for Roche. Last August, the Appellate Division reversed a $25 million verdict against the company in a similar suit, and in 2014, it reversed a $2.1 million verdict. Back in 2010, the higher court overturned a $10.5 million verdict, sending the case back for retrial.

The lawsuits are among 3,000 assigned to multicounty litigation in New Jersey. The plaintiffs allege that Roche’s acne drug, pulled from the market in 2009, triggered their inflammatory bowel disease.

In addition to the victories at the appellate level, Roche has won two court-level Accutane trials.

"We are very happy that the company has been resolute in defending its medicine and that it has been vindicated for doing so," defense lawyers Paul Schmidt and Michael Imbroscio of Covington & Burling said in a statement to the NJLJ.

The latest appellate decisions turn on two matters. Judge Carol Higbee had decided to exclude information about a label warning added to Accutane in 2000 but later allowed that evidence to be presented, the NJLJ says. And Higbee limited the number of defense witnesses because of overlapping testimony; the appeals court said the defense should have been given "freer rein.”

Accutane once was a blockbuster med for Roche and a staple therapy for acne sufferers. Roche pulled Accutane for “business reasons” in 2009, long after the drug went off patent and generics hit the market. The company already was facing hundreds of liability lawsuits at the time.

- read the NJLJ story

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