Plaintiffs won their second bellwether trial to date against Merck Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Fosamax. Merck has won most Fosamax trials so far, but it faces another 800 lawsuits in state and federal courts alleging a link between Fosamax and femur fractures.
Reuters reported on Feb. 5, 2013 that an eight-person federal jury awarded plaintiff Rhoda Scheinberg $285,000 in her Fosamax lawsuit. Ms. Scheinberg alleged Fosamax was a defective product and that it caused her jaw bone disease following dental surgery. The jury rejected the argument that Fosamax is defective, but it did find that Merck failed to adequately warn of Fosamax’s associated risks.
Merck has won five of seven Fosamax cases so far. Plaintiff Shirley Boles (Boles v. Merck & Co., Inc., 06-cv-09455) was awarded $8 million in her lawsuit which alleged Fosamax caused her to develop osteonecrosis of the jawbone. A judge later reduced the award to $1.5 million. Boles consequently filed another lawsuit, which concluded – according to Law360 (9/18/12) – when Merck and Boles reached a deal, though the company said the deal was not considered a settlement.
Osteonecrosis of the jaw occurs when the jawbone fails to heal properly after minor trauma – such as tooth extraction – causing death in the bone tissue. Patients who develop osteonecrosis of the jaw may require long-term antibiotic therapy and surgery to remove dead tissue. Symptoms of osteonecrosis include pain or swelling in the jaw, numbness and/or infection.
Fosamax has also been linked to femur fractures. The FDA in Jan. 2011 issued a warning that bisphosphonates (a class of drug that includes Fosamax) have been linked to atypical femur fractures. The FDA recommended that patients taking bisphosphonates, especially those taking the drugs for more than five years, periodically evaluate whether continued therapy is needed. The agency noted, however, that it was not clear if bisphosphonates can cause thigh fractures, but that there may be a link. Bisphosphonates’ warning labels, including Fosamax’s, were updated to reflect this potential link.
Bisphosphonates are often prescribed to strengthen a patient’s bone density, especially in women suffering from osteoporosis. Some critics assert the drugs are being used too frequently on patients (who do not have osteoporosis) as a preventive measure; such use, they say, fails to pass proper risk-benefit analysis, given Fosamax’s adverse “side effects.”
Matthews & Associates – with offices in Houston, Texas and New York, NY – has filed several Fosamax lawsuits across the U.S.