Jurors in a state court in Houston decided yesterday that Johnson & Johnson, the consumer health care company, must pay $772,500 to the family of a Texas woman who died after a patch intended to release pain-killing drugs leaked.
After deliberating seven hours, jurors found that the two Johnson & Johnson units that make the pain patches, called Duragesic, were responsible for the death of Michaelynn Thompson.
Ms. Thompson, 42, died in 2004 while wearing a Duragesic patch to manage pain from injuries after a car accident.
A spokesman for Johnson & Johnson, Mark Wolfe, said: "We disagree with the outcome of this trial. We are evaluating our legal options."
Johnson & Johnson executives said that the company was confident that Duragesic patches were safe.
An analyst with Leerink Swann & Company in Boston, Bruce Cranna, said that yesterday's verdict might prompt more lawsuits.
Lawyers for Ms. Thompson's family said before the trial that about 100 suits had been filed so far over the Duragesic patch, which generated worldwide sales of about $1.6 billion in 2005. It was Johnson & Johnson's fourth-biggest-selling drug last year.
The Food and Drug Administration is investigating 120 deaths tied to pain patches made by Johnson & Johnson and Mylan Laboratories.
Johnson & Johnson, based in New Brunswick, N.J., added warnings to the patch's label last July, saying doctors should not prescribe them for patients who cannot tolerate similar drugs or who might be prone to abusing them.
The patches, introduced in 1990, release the opiate fentanyl through the skin. Researchers say fentanyl can cause addiction or death in some users
Jurors voted 11 to 1 to award the $772,500 in actual damages to Ms. Thompson's daughter after finding that Johnson & Johnson was liable for the death by making defective patches.
The panel refused to order the company to pay punitive damages.
During the three-week trial, the family argued that managers at that two Johnson & Johnson units that make Duragesic patches, Janssen Pharmaceutica and the Alza Corporation, sped up production in 2003 and 2004 when faced with the loss of patent protection.
Ms. Thompson's family says her system was flooded with fentanyl after her patch leaked. The family's lawyers produced medical reports showing Ms. Thompson had 10 times the therapeutic dose of fentanyl in her body when she died.
Johnson & Johnson's lawyers contend that Ms. Thompson did not die of a fentanyl overdose and that there was no evidence her patch leaked. They attributed her death to "natural causes," like heart problems.
The company said Ms. Thompson might have been wearing more than one patch, leading to the high levels found in her bloodstream.
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