Novartis Wins Motion to Apply NJ Punitive Damages Law in Florida Pharma Case

February 7, 2013

Judge Henry L. Adams granted the motion of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation (“NPC”) to apply New Jersey punitive damages law in a pharmaceutical products liability lawsuit filed in the Middle District of Florida by a Florida resident and his spouse for personal injuries allegedly caused by Zometa, a medication typically prescribed by oncologists to patients with multiple myeloma or whose cancer has metastasized to bone.  Chiles v. Novartis Pharm. Corp., No. 3:06-cv-95-J-25 JBT (M.D. Fla. Feb. 7, 2013).  The Chiles case was remanded to the Middle District of Florida after undergoing fact and expert discovery in the Middle District of Tennessee, In re Aredia and Zometa Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 3:06-MD-1760.  Plaintiffs and NPC, which has its principal place of business in New Jersey, agreed that Florida law governs plaintiffs’ negligence and other claims.  NPC contended that New Jersey law governs plaintiffs’ demand for punitive damages, however, while plaintiffs argued in favor of Florida punitive damages law.

Judge Adams acknowledged a conflict between the two jurisdictions’ laws, stating that Florida permits punitive damages and that under New Jersey law, punitive damages in cases involving FDA-approved pharmaceuticals are precluded by the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, except for a narrow exception.  Id. at 3.  Given this conflict between Florida and New Jersey law as to the availability of punitive damages, Judge Adams conducted a choice-of-law analysis regarding this issue based on the “significant relationships test” of Florida’s choice-of-law rules.  Id. at 3-4.

Although the local law of the state of injury generally governs, Judge Adams considered several factors and held that NPC overcame this general rule because New Jersey has a more significant relationship than Florida to the issue of punitive damages.  He rejected plaintiffs’ arguments that Florida punitive damages law should apply because Mr. Chiles was at all relevant times a Florida resident and was treated with Zometa exclusively in Florida.  Id. at 5.  He also rejected plaintiffs’ argument that Delaware punitive damages law should take precedence over New Jersey law because NPC is incorporated there.  Id. at 5-6.

After noting NPC’s argument that New Jersey has the greater interest regarding the punitive damages issue because New Jersey is its principal place of business, Judge Adams concluded that “Plaintiffs have failed to rebut Defendant’s argument that the decisions at issue that potentially give rise to punitive damages were made from Defendant’s New Jersey headquarters.”  Id. at 6.  Thus, “New Jersey has a more significant relationship to the issue of punitive damages than Plaintiff’s home state in light of Novartis’ contacts with New Jersey and the Restatement § 6 principles.”  Id. (citing Zimmerman v. Novartis Pharm. Corp., No. 8:08-cv-02089-RWT, 2012 WL 3848545, at *4 (D. Md. Sept. 5, 2012)).