NEW ORLEANS -- More than 9,000 lawsuits have been filed nationwide against the makers and distributors of the blood thinner Xarelto including more than 7,000 just in Louisiana.
U.S. District Court Judge Eldon Fallon, who is overseeing the multi-district litigation (MDL), has picked four “bellwether” cases to be heard next year in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
Approximately 1,000 are on file in state court in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and an additional 1,000 in Delaware.
The defendants in the Xarelto case are German drug maker Bayer AG and its U.S. distributor, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson.
Many of the plaintiffs claim Xarelto caused bleeding to the intestine or the brain, leading to severe side effects, including hospitalization and, in some cases, death.
The defendants are accused of failing to properly warn patients of the dangers of the drug, a claim Janssen denies.
“The process as outlined by the court is moving forward, and we will continue to defend against the claims raised in this litigation,” Sarah Freeman, a spokesperson for Janssen, told the Louisiana Record.
“All anticoagulants, or blood thinners, carry the risk of bleeding, and the prescribing information for Xarelto has always warned of these risks,” Freeman said. “Discontinuing medication without first speaking with their physician may put patients at risk for blood clot, stroke and even death, as stated in the boxed warning for the products in the class.”
The first case due for trial in February involves Louisiana man Joseph Boudreaux. He claims to have suffered severe gastrointestinal bleeding after using Xarelto. Joseph Orr, the husband of a woman who used Xarelto for about a month before she died from a brain hemorrhage, will be the second case to go to trial in Louisiana.
These will be followed by Mississippi woman Dora Mingo, who claims to have suffered bleeding of the intestine after using Xarelto to treat blood clots, and the fourth is that of William Henry of Texas, who died due to gastrointestinal bleeding.
The result of “bellwether” cases are not binding on other lawsuits in the MDL. They are normally used to determine whether a settlement can be reached. If no settlement can be reached, or the defendants are found to be wholly without fault, the cases may be sent back to their home districts.
Twelve plaintiff law firms from various parts of the country are involved in the litigation. They are led by Brian H. Barr of Levin Papantonio of Florida and Andy D. Birchfield of Alabama law firm Beasley Allen.
Levin Papantonio was involved in litigation against Boehringer Ingelheim, the makers of Pradaxa, also a blood thinner. The drug company settled for $650 million.
Beasley Allen won a $72 million jury verdict in February against Johnson and Johnson over claims its talcum powder caused ovarian cancer.
“Louisiana has a long, storied history as a plaintiffs’ lawyers paradise, so it comes as no surprise that trial lawyers would want to try some of the first cases here," Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, told the Louisiana Record. “With more than 7,000 lawsuits on the books already, these ‘bellwether’ trials will likely set the tone for future trials or settlement discussions. With that being said, U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon is an experienced judge who has a track record of handling similar multidistrict litigation fairly and efficiently.”
According to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, Xarelto accounted for the largest number of reported cases of domestic, serious injury among regularly monitored drugs.
Culling data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the institute reported that in 2015, there was a total of 10,674 reports, including 1,121 patient deaths and 4,508 injuries requiring hospitalization. The most frequent reports were bleeding on the brain and in the intestines.
The first firm to file a lawsuit against the makers and distributors of Xarelto was Napoli Sckolnik of New York.
Hunter Sckolnik, one of the attorneys involved in the filing, said his firm brought the case in Philadelphia, the headquarters of Janssen.
But the firm switched to Delaware, where he said the company, like many corporate entities, has a “significant involvement.” Sckolnik expects to file 1,000 cases in Delaware state court.
They are not involved with the Louisiana MDL, and do not want to be, said Sckolnik, adding that his firm wants to “control our own ship.”
He said the judge overseeing the action in Delaware denied Wednesday the defendant’s motion to move the cases back to the plaintiffs’ home states.
“By doing that it would have forced them into the MDL, that’s what would have happened,” Sckolnik told the Louisiana Record.