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Daughter wins patch case

Jury finds pain product had defect; mother died in 2004

Jul 8, 2006

A jury in Houston on Friday awarded $772,500 to the daughter of a Rosenberg woman who died after using a drug patch made by Johnson & Johnson.

The lawsuit stemmed from the death of Michaelynn Thompson, on Feb. 13, 2004.

The jury, which deliberated for seven hours, found that there was a manufacturing defect that caused the patch to leak, said, a lawyer for the family. He said the leak greatly increased the dose of the painkiller Thompson received. Trammell also said the jury found that Johnson & Johnson's Alza subsidiary was negligent in the way it made its Duragesic patch.

The jury did not award punitive damages in the trial, the first of its kind. There are about 100 more lawsuits involving the Duragesic patch, estimated another lawyer for the Thompson family.

The company said it disagrees with the outcome of the wrongful-death trial, in which 11 out of 12 jurors decided the Duragesic patch Thompson wore was defective. The patch is marketed and distributed by Janssen Pharmaceutica, another Johnson & Johnson unit.

The New Brunswick, N.J.-based pharmaceutical firm is evaluating its "legal options," Alza spokesman Mark Wolfe said Friday.

"We are confident in the safety of Duragesic and the benefits it provides patients with chronic pain," he said, declining to comment further.

Michael Zellers, who argued Johnson & Johnson's case in Houston, declined to comment.

Defense lawyers had claimed that because Thompson weighed more than 300 pounds she likely died of a heart attack.

The family attorney said Alza had recalled some of its patches a few days after Thompson died  saying that if the patches leaked, patients could experience an uncontrolled release of fentanyl that could threaten lives. Fentanyl is a commonly used anesthetic that in high doses can turn off the respiratory center in the brain.

Fibich said that, under recent tort-reform law, the jury's verdict had to be unanimous for it to award punitive damages.

The lack of punitive damages disappointed Thompson's 16-year-old daughter, Kenzey Thompson, who lives with relatives in Santa Fe.

"I feel the company should be punished for what they've done," she said.

Testimony at the trial revealed that the year in which the recalled patches were made, Alza had quadrupled production because the patent was about to expire, said the plantiff's lawyer.

In 2003, Johnson & Johnson made $1.6 billion from Duragesic patches, about $430 million more than it made from selling the same product the previous year, Trammell said.

The Food and Drug Administration found that between January 2003 and June 2004, Alza made 40 lots of the pain patches, which are designed to deliver controlled, hourly doses, said the plantiff's attorney. He said the FDA received complaints of leaks in 35 of the 40 lots.

"The jury followed the evidence and came up with a true, good verdict in this case," said the plantiff's attorney.

A doctor who treated Thompson the day she died called her family a few days later, after he learned about a recall of Duragesic patches.

The Thompson family would "never have known the role of the drug fentanyl played in Ms. Thompson's death if they hadn't contacted us," Trammell said, noting that his firm collected blood from the medical examiner and had it tested.

The private-lab test showed the level of fentanyl in her blood was about 10 times what it would have normally been for pain-killing, Trammel said.

After the trial, Kenzey Thompson said she will use the $772,500 to pay for college and that she's considering law school.

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