The Mass Tort Unit of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, led by veteran pharmaceutical and medical device lawyers Brenda Fulmer and C. Calvin Warriner, III, recently filed several more lawsuits against the manufacturers of Xarelto. The law firm has filed dozens of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits against Bayer and Janssen Pharmaceuticals alleging that Xarelto is defective and has caused numerous serious and some fatal bleeding injuries to patients.

Searcy Denney Files Xarelto Lawsuits

One of the newly-filed lawsuits involves a Dade County, Florida resident who began taking Xarelto after being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation after failing aspirin therapy. The patient was placed on Xarelto in 2014. One of the allegations in the national Xarelto litigation effort is that prescribing doctors should have been warned by Xarelto’s manufacturers that this particular blood thinner should not be considered as first-line therapy in light of the reported increased incidence of bleeding injuries, the lack of an antidote to reverse the anti-clotting effects of Xarelto (which is available for Coumadin and Pradaxa), and the inability to determine which patients might be particularly susceptible to a bleeding episode while on Xarelto. This patient developed an acute upper GI bleed, the most common injury associated with Xarelto, after taking the drug for about a year. The patient developed significant hematuria (blood in urine), severe abdominal pain, and coffee-ground stool (a classic sign of bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract). The patient developed severe anemia which led to respiratory failure and significant abdominal bleeding which caused the bladder to rupture.

Searcy Denney’s pharmaceutical lawyers also filed a recent lawsuit on behalf of a Delray Beach, Florida patient who developed a GI bleed and bleeding in his brain after taking Xarelto for three years. This patient was prescribed Xarelto in 2012, shortly after this drug was approved by the FDA. At the time, there was a lot of hype over Xarelto and its ease of use over Coumadin, which requires regular blood monitoring of INR levels and dietary and medication restrictions. Patients were assured that Xarelto had the same safety profile as Coumadin, yet it would be easier to use and be less of a hassle, which was very compelling to young patients with busy lives. Unfortunately, since then, Xarelto has become one of the drugs with the highest number of adverse events reported to the FDA. In the pending Xarelto MDL litigation, the plaintiffs contend that Xarelto patients face a far greater risk of developing bleeding injuries than patients who ingest Coumadin and that representations in Xarelto’s warning label and marketing materials to the contrary were false.

The third recent lawsuit filing by our Mass Tort Unit involves a wrongful death claim on behalf of the surviving family members of a Pompano, Florida man who died in Broward County earlier this year due to an intracranial hemorrhage after ingesting Xarelto for a few months. Prior to starting Xarelto in 2016, the patient had taken Plavix and aspirin for several years for his atrial fibrillation. The primary use of Xarelto is in patients with this common heart arrhythmia who are at risk of developing blood clots and ischemic strokes from pooling of blood in the heart. Anticoagulant drugs (like Coumadin, warfarin, Xarelto, Pradaxa, and Eliquis) thin the blood and make patients less likely to develop blood clot-related injuries, including ischemic strokes where a clot blocks blood flow in the brain. Xarelto, however, has a propensity to cause hemorrhagic strokes, where there is bleeding in the brain (rather than a blockage).

Xarelto Lawsuits Consolidated into MDL

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These individual lawsuits will become a part of MDL No. 2592, which are coordinated legal proceedings for Xarelto pending in New Orleans. Currently, there are more 18,000 individual lawsuits pending in these multi-district litigation proceedings. These cases include both personal injury and wrongful death claims, and most involve allegations that use of Xarelto led to the development of bleeding injuries in the GI tract or brain. Bleeding injuries have been reported after just a single dose of Xarelto. Judge Eldon Fallon is presiding over the national litigation and has extensive experience with supervising complex pharmaceutical cases. There are also nearly 1,500 cases pending in state court in Pennsylvania.

The third bellwether trial against Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a division of Johnson & Johnson) and Bayer Corporation began on August 7, 2017, at a federal courthouse in the Southern District of Mississippi in Jackson. This case involves Dora Mingo, a 69-year-old retired schoolteacher from Summit, Mississippi who developed deep vein thrombosis (a “DVT”) in January of 2015, after undergoing hip implant surgery earlier that month. She developed by the DVT while she was on the blood thinner Lovenox following her hip surgery, so a hospital doctor prescribed Xarelto 15 mg to be taken twice a day for 21 days and then a 20-mg dose to be taken daily after that. After taking Xarelto for only a few weeks, Ms. Mingo’s blood work showed significant abnormalities in her hemoglobin and hematocrit levels, and she was instructed to go to the ER immediately. At the hospital, she was diagnosed with severe anemia and testing showed that she had an acute upper GI bleed for which she received blood transfusions and underwent a procedure to clip a bleeding ulcer. She was hospitalized for two days for the Xarelto-induced bleed and associated anemia.

The Xarelto defendants sought to dismiss her lawsuit and prevent the jury trial from proceeding in July and contended that Ms. Mingo was unable to prove that Xarelto was defective under Mississippi’s product liability law which requires that the plaintiff prove that the product was unreasonably dangerous to consumer and that she was injured by the drug. Further, Bayer and Janssen contended that Ms. Mingo’s case should be dismissed as they do not believe that she can fulfill her burden to prove that the Xarelto that she ingested failed to function as expected and that there was a feasible alternative medication available that she could have taken and avoided the risk of developing the upper GI bleed and anemia. In the Xarelto MDL litigation, the plaintiffs contend that there are safer alternative blood thinners available, including Coumadin or warfarin (which have been prescribed for decades) as well as other modern blood thinners, including Eliquis (which has a different dosing regimen) and Pradaxa (which reportedly now has an antidote available). The plaintiffs have also argued that manufacturers should warn that patients be given a blood test (known as an anti-Factor Xa assay, which is being used in Europe to identify high-risk patients) prior to use of the newer blood thinners to confirm that the patient will tolerate the drug.

The biggest challenge in meeting the plaintiff’s burden of proof is that the FDA has not determined that Xarelto is unreasonably dangerous (and, in fact, has promoted the safety of the drug). The plaintiff also has a burden in proving that the risk of a GI bleed is higher with Xarelto than with the other blood thinners, as the studies on this issue are conflicting and all blood thinners can cause GI bleeding events. The FDA originally approved Xarelto (also known as rivaroxaban) in 2011 for blood clot and stroke prevention in patients with atrial fibrillation and those who have undergone orthopedic surgeries.

Request for Summary Judgment from Defendants Denied

On July 21, 2017, Judge Fallon denied the defendants’ request for a summary judgment dismissing the lawsuit under Mississippi’s product liability statute, finding that there were disputed fact issues that prevented the claims from being dismissed prior to trial. It is likely that these same issues will be raised during the course of the trial after evidence and testimony on the existence of a product defect is presented to the Mississippi federal court jury. Additional motions to dismiss the case on the basis of federal court preemption and claims that federal law prevented Xarelto’s manufacturers from enhancing the safety warnings for the blood thinner have also been denied by the MDL judge. Judge Fallon also considered and rejected motions from both parties to exclude their opponents’ expert opinions on the risks associated with other anti-coagulants, unapproved dosing and monitoring regimens, and whether Ms. Mingo’s injuries were caused by her short-term use of Xarelto.

Judge Fallon is expected to preside over a fourth Xarelto bellwether trial, the Henry case, in Texas federal court later this year. The first two MDL bellwether trials were tried before juries in New Orleans and both resulted in verdicts in favor of the drug’s manufacturers. Appeals are pending regarding these trial losses by the plaintiffs.

The law firm of Searcy Denney, with offices in West Palm Beach and Tallahassee, represents more than 50 clients in their mass tort product liability lawsuits against the manufacturers of Xarelto. The firm has a dedicated Mass Tort Unit that focuses solely on drug and medical device claims. The timeframe for filing of lawsuit over a defective drug can be short, so please do not delay in contacting a lawyer if you or a loved one have suffered a gastrointestinal bleed, bleeding in the brain, or other injury associated with the use of Xarelto.

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