Roche scores Accutane victory with reversal of $25M verdict

Roche ($RHHBY) has been on a legal roller coaster with its acne drug Accutane. Facing thousands of claims that the drug triggers inflammatory bowel disease, the Swiss drugmaker is now enjoying a high point, as an appeals court reversed a $25 million verdict against the company.

In a lawsuit over a patient who developed Crohn's disease while taking the drug, a New Jersey appeals court ruled that the plaintiff, Andrew McCarrell, did not file his suit in time and that a lower court mistakenly applied New Jersey state law, rather than the law in McCarrell's home state of Alabama, the New Jersey Law Journal reports. The court used a precedent laid out in a 2012 Supreme Court ruling in favor of Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), which dismissed a suit over a faulty stent after finding that lower courts applied the wrong state law.

This is not the first time the court has overturned a verdict over McCarrell's Accutane claims. In 2007, a court awarded McCarrell $2.7 million, but the drugmaker ultimately got the verdict reversed, based on an issue with evidence. McCarrell won the $25 million verdict after a 2010 retrial.

Attorney David Buchanan

The appeals court decision is "very disappointing," David Buchanan, McCarrell's lawyer, told the NJLJ. McCarrell has fought Roche for 12 years over "permanent and devastating injuries" he got from using Accutane, Buchanan said. McCarrell proved Roche's responsibility for the injuries in two separate trials, Buchanan contends, adding that he plans to take the matter up with the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Unsurprisingly, Roche is pleased with the latest ruling. "Roche has argued from the beginning that Mr. McCarrell's lawsuit was filed many years too late, and we are gratified that the appeals court has now dismissed a lawsuit that the trial court should have never allowed to proceed," company spokesman Edward Lang said in a statement seen by the NJLJ.

Meanwhile, the drugmaker continues to deal with more than 6,000 cases pending in New Jersey Superior Court. Roche pulled Accutane from the market in 2009, but has faced legal battles against the drug since then. In 2012, a New Jersey jury ordered Roche to pay $18 million in damages to two Accutane patients who developed inflammatory bowel disease. Last year, a New Jersey jury told the drugmaker to pony up $1.5 million in damages to a woman who suffered from bowel disease after taking Accutane.

But Roche has also achieved some other victories. In August 2014, the company got a New Jersey court to reverse a $2.1 million verdict in favor of a woman who blamed Accutane for her inflammatory bowel disease. The plaintiff said Roche failed to warn her of the drug's risks. But a court found that as long as a manufacturer "provides adequate warnings" to the prescribing doc, a company "has no duty to ensure that the warning reaches the patient."

- read the NJLJ story (reg. req.)