In Re: Fosamax Products Liability Litigation, No. 14-1900 (3d Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Hundreds of plaintiffs sued the drug manufacturer Merck, alleging that the osteoporosis drug Fosamax caused them to suffer serious thigh bone fractures. Each brought a state-law tort claim alleging that Merck failed to add an adequate warning of the risk to Fosamax’s FDA-approved drug label. Many also brought claims including defective design, negligence, and breach of warranty. Plaintiffs’ suits were consolidated in multi-district litigation in the District of New Jersey. Following discovery and a bellwether trial, the court granted Merck summary judgment, based on the Supreme Court’s holding in Wyeth v. Levine, that state-law failure-to-warn claims are preempted when there is “clear evidence” that the FDA would not have approved the warning that plaintiffs claim was necessary. The Third Circuit vacated. Preemption is an affirmative defense; Merck did not carry its burden to prove that it is entitled to that defense. The Wyeth “clear evidence” standard is demanding and fact-sensitive. It requires a court sitting in summary judgment to anticipate the range of conclusions that a reasonable juror might reach and the certainty with which the juror would reach them. Here, plaintiffs produced sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that the FDA would have approved a properly-worded warning about the risk of thigh fractures—or to conclude that the odds of FDA rejection were less than highly probable.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on April 11, 2017.