Judge dismisses 1,225 cases against Bayer Healthcare

By Bill Heltzel

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A federal judge in White Plains has dismissed 1,225 lawsuits against Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals that were filed by women who claimed that the company’s contraceptive device injured them.

U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Seibel concluded that the absence of expert testimony made it impossible to prove that the device can injure women after it was inserted.

“No reasonable jury could find in favor of plaintiffs because there is no evidence in the record from which a jury could find that secondary perforation exists and is capable of causing plaintiffs’ injuries,” Seibel wrote in a July 28 opinion.

“The court reaches this conclusion reluctantly, knowing that it will doom hundreds of cases,” she said, “but in the court’s view it is compelled by the law.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Bayer’s Mirena intra-uterine contraceptive device in 2000.

The small, plastic T-shaped IUD releases a continuous dose of a hormone that reduces the chances of pregnancy. A trained health care provider implants the device.

Mirena has been marketed as a convenient form of birth control. It is meant to last for up to five years and it can be removed if a woman wanted to become pregnant.

Women who sued Bayer complained of side effects, such as perforation of the uterus, pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancy. Many said the device shifted and caused internal injuries.

The legal issues, Seibel said, are when perforations occur and whether the label adequately warned of all risks associated with perforation.

The Mirena label went through a few versions. For years, it said “perforation or penetration of the uterine wall or cervix may occur during insertion.” In 2014, the label said perforation “may occur most often during insertion.”

Bayer argued that the scientific consensus was that perforations cannot occur after the device is implanted. The plaintiffs contended that secondary perforations can occur.

In March, Seibel barred testimony from seven expert witnesses for the women, concluding that they were unqualified or unreliable to offer expert opinions on clinical issues, causation or regulatory issues.

A biomedical engineer, for example, had no experience with IUDs or hormonal contraception devices like Mirena and no particular familiarity with the anatomy of the uterus. His only experience with the hormone used in Mirena came from reviewing articles that the plaintiffs’ counsel gave him and that he copied and pasted into his expert report.

“This is not the level of rigor an expert in the field would apply and does not pass muster,” Seibel concluded.

A professor of physiology presented a theory on secondary perforation “without confronting scientific literature that refutes this notion,” casting doubt on her reliability.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys tried to salvage their cases by arguing that other evidence could prove their cases. But Seibel ruled that allowing such admissions to substitute for expert testimony would defeat state laws that require experts and would leave the jury to speculate about the cause of injuries.

In 2013, when about 40 cases were pending in 17 federal districts, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated the lawsuits.

The cases shared common factual issues on the alleged risks of perforation and migration and on the adequacy of the product label, the panel said. Placing all cases under one judge would make it easier to accommodate everyone in the pretrial proceedings.

The panel chose the Southern District of New York because it is near Bayer operations in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, where the primary witnesses and documentary evidence would likely be located. The district also is easy to reach for plaintiffs around the country.

Bayer Healthcare once operated a facility in Tarrytown. The operations were moved in 2013 when the Bayer subsidiary opened a new U.S. headquarters in Whippany, N.J.

The panel chose Seibel because she was already presiding over three related cases, “and she is an experienced transferee judge who we are confident will steer this litigation on a prudent course.”

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About the author

Bill Heltzel
Bill Heltzel has covered criminal justice, courts, government and sports – as a beat reporter and investigative reporter – for daily newspapers in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He worked for Bloomberg LP in training and sales. He joined The Business Journal in 2016.

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