Xarelto, the brand name of blood thinning medication rivaroxaban, can help treat and prevent dangerous blood clots in patients undergoing hip and knee replacement surgeries. An unfortunate side effect of Xarelto is an increased risk of internal or external bleeding.
A serious of lawsuits (some 20,000 in all) have been filed against the makers of Xarelto -- Johnson and Johnson and Bayer AG -- claiming the companies failed to warn consumers of the bleeding risks. And in the first verdict to go against J&J and Bayer in those cases, a Philadelphia jury awarded a woman $28 million in damages.
One Harmful Drug
Lynn Hartman needed four blood transfusions after being hospitalized in 2014 with gastrointestinal bleeding. Her lawsuit also claims she had been taking Xarelto for more than a year before her hospitalization and that when switched to another blood thinner, the side effects ceased.
The case was tried in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, which was recently dubbed a "Judicial Hellhole" where civil lawsuits are allegedly handled unfairly against big businesses. The jury, which heard testimony from a former head of the Food and Drug Administration regarding the drug's inadequate warning labels, ultimately awarded Hartman $1.8 million in compensatory damages and another $26 million in punitive damages.
Billions in Sales, Hundreds of Deaths, Thousands of Lawsuits
Bloomberg reports that Xarelto is Bayer's top-selling product and J&J's third-largest seller, garnering those companies $3.2 billion and $2.3 billion, respectively, in 2016 alone. But the FDA has also linked the drug to thousands of adverse events and 370 deaths.
J&J and Bayer had won three previous Xarelto lawsuits, in federal courts in Louisiana and Mississippi. Those cases were intended to be "bellweather" trials, to give parties on both sides an idea about how future trials would shake out, in the hopes that parties would be more likely to settle. "
"The plaintiffs needed to put a win on the board to keep these other cases alive," said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Bloomberg. "Otherwise, the rest of the cases may have been seen as having little value." Whether Hartman's award will affect the thousands of remaining Xarelto claims remains to be seen.