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New Jersey Jury Awards $1.58M In Retrial Of Accutane Bowel Injury Case

 ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — (Mealey’s) A New Jersey state court jury on March 11 found that Hoffman-La Roche failed to adequately warn that its former acne drug Accutane could cause ulcerative colitis and awarded the plaintiff $1,587,928 for past medical expenses and for pain and suffering (Kamie Kendall Rees v. Hoffman-La Roche Inc., No. 008213-05, N.J. Super., Atlantic Co.). 

After deliberating since March 10, the eight-member jury in the Atlantic County Superior Court said that in 7-1 votes, it found that:  Accutane was more likely than not a substantial factor in some people developing ulcerative colitis; Roche failed to provide an adequate warning to plaintiff Kamie Kendall Rees and her prescribing doctor when it knew or should have known of the risk of ulcerative colitis; the failure to provide an adequate warning more likely than not was a substantial factor in Rees’ taking Accutane; and Accutane more likely than not was a substantial contributing factor in Rees developing ulcerative colitis. 

On an 8-0 vote, the jury awarded Rees $87,928 in past medical expenses — an amount the parties stipulated to — and $1.5 million for what Judge Carol Higbee called pain and suffering. 

8 Times Lower Than 1st Judgment 

The verdict is substantially less than the $13.6 million judgment Rees won against Roche after a 2008 trial.  The judgment was overturned on appeal because Judge Higbee did not allow Roche to tell the jury how many people took Accutane. 

Rees’ attorney, Michael Hook of Hook Bolton in Pensacola, Fla., told Mealey Publications that he is happy with the verdict.  He said he is not disappointed that today’s verdict was less than the 2008 judgment, noting that he retried another Accutane case and the second verdict was 10 times the size of the first one. 

In New Jersey, Hook said plaintiff attorneys are not allowed to ask for any specific dollar amount in a verdict. 

Hook noted that Roche was able to introduce new evidence that it says shows that Accutane does not cause ulcerative colitis or inflammatory bowel disease.  He said the Rees jury “flatly rejected” that new evidence. 

9th Straight Plaintiffs’ Verdict 

Hook said today’s verdict is the ninth against Roche.  “I hope that after nine plaintiff verdicts, Roche will do the right thing,” he said. 

Rees was 15 when she was first prescribed Accutane to treat acne.  In 1999, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.  She eventually had her large intestine removed. 

Roche argued that the Accutane label warned doctors about the risk of ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel syndrome.  It also argued that it has never concluded that the drug causes either condition. 

Roche:  Warning Adequate 

Roche argued that Rees, her mother and her prescribing physician were warned about the risks of Accutane.  It argued that a different warning would not have changed the doctor’s decision to prescribe or Rees’ or her mother’s decision to use the drug. 

Roche also argued that Rees had a family history of gastrointestinal health problems and that Rees’ condition may have been caused by her extensive use of antibiotics prior to using Accutane.  It also said that in 1997 or 1998, Rees was in the age group most likely to develop inflammatory bowel disease. 

The retrial began Jan. 27. 

Roche has since stopped manufacturing Accutane because the drug’s patent expired and cheaper generic versions became plentiful. 

Appeals, Next Trial 

Hook said the next Accutane case may go to trial in late summer.  He said three verdicts are in the appeals process. 

Roche is represented by Orlando R. Richmond Jr. of Butler Snow in Jackson, Miss.

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