A California woman who developed a severe jawbone disease after taking Zometa recently prevailed in a choice of law argument concerning punitive damages.
Punitive damages are sometimes awarded in defective pharmaceuticals cases. Punitive damages are money awards typically intended to financially punish a pharmaceutical company for the damage caused by its defective drugs and to deter the company and other similarly situated drugmakers from harming patients with their defective drugs.
Novartis Pharmaceutical Corp. is one of the most recent drugmakers to face potential punitive damages arising from the sale of one of its drugs. The lawsuit against Novartis was brought by a California woman who took one of Novartis’ osteoporosis drugs, Zometa, for several months.
The woman was diagnosed with osteonecrosis of the jaw several months after she stopped taking Zometa. Osteonecrosis of the jaw is a serious bone disease that involves lesions with exposed bone. The woman’s complaint alleges that Zometa increases the risk of osteonecrosis of the jaw and that the drug’s label inadequately warns patients of the risk of this horrible disease.
Novartis is a New Jersey-based drugmaker and sought to have New Jersey law apply to the woman’s request for damages. The California woman sued Novartis in California and wanted California law to apply to the punitive damage request.
A court reviewing Novartis’ choice of law motion noted that New Jersey and California law differ substantially when it comes to punitive damages. California law does not statutorily limit punitive damages, whereas New Jersey law would limit the drugmaker’s punitive damages to the greater of five times the woman’s compensatory damages or $350,000.
Additionally, the New Jersey Punitive Damages Act prohibits punitive damages for makers of Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs unless a patient can show that a drugmaker knowingly withheld or misrepresented material information required to be submitted under the FDA’s regulations.
Fortunately for the California woman, the court ruled that California’s law should apply to any damage award. All of the material events in this case occurred in California because Zometa was marketed, prescribed and sold in California to a California resident. That is why the court found that California has a greater interest than New Jersey in the application of its own law, and California’s interest would be more significantly impaired if its law were not applied.
This case highlights the importance of hiring an experienced product liability law firm capable of making successful choice of law arguments in court. Drugmakers will always attempt to have courts impose the set of laws that will most severely limit the amount of damages they could have to pay. An experienced plaintiffs attorney can help ensure that the most favorable and relevant set of laws apply to a patient’s case to get that patient the compensation he or she deserves