North Carolina Federal Jury Returns Defense Verdict in Favor of Novartis

May 14, 2014

Following a full day’s deliberations, a federal jury in Raleigh, North Carolina, returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation after a seven-day trial involving Aredia and Zometa, medicines used to prevent the devastating consequences of bone damage in multiple myeloma patients and cancer patients suffering from metastases to bone.  Earp v. Novartis Pharm. Corp., No. 5:11-cv-680-D (E.D.N.C. May 14, 2014).  Plaintiff Jimmy Earp alleged that he developed osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ) as a result of receiving Aredia and Zometa as part of his treatment for multiple myeloma.

Novartis successfully argued that Mr. Earp’s oncologist would have prescribed the medicines to him regardless of the ONJ risk.  Recognizing the extraordinary value the medicines confer, the jury rejected plaintiff’s North Carolina-based failure-to-warn claim – even after finding for plaintiff on medical causation and warning adequacy – by answering “No” to the question “Did Mr. Earp prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Novartis’s unreasonable failure to provide an adequate warning or instruction concerning the use of Aredia and Zometa was a proximate cause of Mr. Earp’s osteonecrosis of the jaw?”

In an earlier order, Chief Judge Dever granted judgment as a matter of law for Novartis on plaintiff’s punitive damages claim.  Plaintiff had claimed that he was entitled to punitive damages under North Carolina’s “willful and wanton” standard.  However, Judge Dever ruled that plaintiff had not “presented sufficient evidence to allow a rational jury to find willful or wanton conduct on the part of Novartis’ officers, directors or managers by clear and convincing evidence.”  Judge Dever also ruled that “no rational jury could say, without hesitancy, that Novartis’s officers, directors or managers participated in or condoned the requisite willful or wanton conduct and that they knew or should have known that such conduct was reasonably likely to result in injury.”  In an oral order, Judge Dever also granted judgment as a matter of law for Novartis on plaintiff’s implied warranty claim.