It appears that New Jersey will soon see the end of a potential mass tort litigation involving women who were prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat menopausal symptoms that they claimed, in fact, led to cancer and other health issues. Remarkably, what became a multi-million dollar collection of suits across the United States has resulted in a series of resolutions involving no disclosed recoveries of sums and not a single case tried to a verdict in New Jersey.
A recent notice issued by the State judiciary indicated that all active litigation related to this topic has been concluded, providing the opportunity for legal objections to the termination of its centralized status by February 13th. However, there were no objections raised as January came to a close.
Class Action Suits Lead to “Mass Tort” Status
Initially, the sheer number of lawsuits led the issue to be classified as a “mass tort,” which would be tried in one designated county. Now, with all of the cases resolved, the State may see the issued closed completely, with any settlements, and associated payments made by pharmaceutical companies, remaining confidential.
One of the main players in HRT litigation nationwide has been Pfizer, as the company acquired Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, the producer of two of the highest-volume HRT drugs–Premarin and Prempro—in 2009. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals is, in fact, headquartered in Madison, New Jersey.
Pfizer reportedly paid sums amounting to $1.7 billion in litigation related to these suits as of 2013, with yet another $25 million dedicated to a number of pending class actions. While many states awarded plaintiffs large sums of money, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey did not uphold its plaintiff-friendly reputation during the adjudication of HRT-related matters.
New Jersey Addresses Product Liability Cases for HRT Differently
In Pennsylvania in 2009, in the case of Barton v. Wyeth, the plaintiff was initially awarded $78.7 million, but that amount was eventually reduced to $11.2 million after the appeals process ended with a decision issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2013.
In New Jersey, on the other hand, the HRT litigation was given a mass tort status in September of 2004 by the New Jersey Supreme Court. The collection of suits was originally to be tried in Atlantic County but was later transferred to Middlesex. Ultimately, multiple arguments failed to sway judges in favor of the plaintiffs in a series of precedential cases.
For example, one decision affirmed the adequacy of warnings and instructions approved or prescribed by the FDA, meaning that the “black box” warning associated with pharmaceutical products like Premarin and Prempro are sufficient in the eyes of the law. This discounted the “failure to warn” arguments brought by some of the plaintiffs.
Other arguments, including those involving violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, and common-law claims of fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation, were dismissed as well.
As mentioned earlier, we will never truly know if and how much was paid to any of the plaintiffs who brought HRT-related suits against Wyeth and others in New Jersey. Nevertheless, the law’s general allowance for suits of these kind and, further, the goal of protecting the consumer, will guarantee the recurrence of product liability claims in the years to come.
The resources and information that contributed to this article were provided by the New Jersey Law Journal in: “How a Billion-Dollar Mass Tort Fizzled in NJ“