Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Drugs & Biotech
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The People of the State of California, by and through the Santa Clara County Counsel, the Orange County District Attorney, the Los Angeles County Counsel, and the Oakland City Attorney, filed suit against various pharmaceutical companies involved in the manufacture, marketing, distribution, and sale of prescription opioid medications. The People alleged the defendants made false and misleading statements as part of a deceptive marketing scheme designed to minimize the risks of opioid medications and inflate their benefits. The People alleged this scheme caused a public health crisis in California by dramatically increasing opioid prescriptions, opioid use, opioid abuse, and opioid-related deaths. In their suit, the People allege causes of action for violations of the False Advertising Law, and the public nuisance statutes. After several years of litigation, the defendants served business record subpoenas on four nonparty state agencies: the California State Board of Registered Nursing (Nursing Board), the California State Board of Pharmacy (Pharmacy Board), the Medical Board of California (Medical Board), and the California Department of Justice (DOJ). The Pharmacy Board, the Medical Board, and the DOJ served objections to the subpoenas. The Nursing Board filed a motion for a protective order seeking relief from the production obligations of its subpoena. After further litigation, which is recounted below, the trial court ordered the state agencies to produce documents in response to the subpoenas. In consolidated proceedings, the state agencies challenged the trial court's orders compelling production of documents. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the motions to compel against the Pharmacy Board and Medical Board were untimely, and the defendants were required to serve consumer notices on at least the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care professionals whose identities would be disclosed in the administrative records, investigatory files, and coroner’s reports. Furthermore, the Court concluded the requests for complete administrative records and investigatory files, were overbroad and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. "The requests for complete administrative records and investigatory files also ran afoul of the constitutional right to privacy and the statutory official information and deliberative process privileges." The trial court was directed to vacate its orders compelling production of documents, and to enter new orders denying the motions to compel and, for the Nursing Board, granting its motion for a protective order. View "Board of Registered Nursing v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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T.L. consulted Dr. Jack Goldberg for a blood condition. In October 2010, Dr. Goldberg told T.L. about a new medication, Pegasys. After taking Pegasys, T.L. experienced a number of symptoms, but Dr. Goldberg advised that T.L. should continue taking Pegasys. T.L. began experiencing severe pain in her neck and both arms, requiring hospitalization and rehabilitation. T.L. was diagnosed with inflammation of the spinal cord and experienced partial paralysis on her right side. T.L. brought suit against Dr. Goldberg and his employer, Penn Medicine Cherry Hill. T.L. claimed that Dr. Goldberg deviated from accepted standards of care by prescribing Pegasys to her because she was diagnosed with, and took medication for, chronic depression. During Dr. Goldberg’s deposition, when asked whether he was aware of any studies in the Journal of Clinical Oncology pertaining to the use of Pegasys to treat patients with T.L.’s condition, Dr. Goldberg answered “no.” On T.L.’s motion, the court barred Dr. Goldberg from using any medical literature at trial that was not produced during the course of discovery. At trial, Dr. Goldberg testified that he prescribed Pegasys to T.L. because he relied upon a clinical trial, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2009, that included patients with a history of depression. T.L.’s counsel did not object. The jury found that Dr. Goldberg did not deviate from the applicable standard of care. T.L. was granted a new trial on grounds that Dr. Goldberg’s discussion of the 2009 publication constituted reversible error. Dr. Goldberg appealed as of right based on a dissenting justice in the Appellate Division's reversal of the trial court. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding there was no demonstration that the changed testimony caused prejudice to T.L., and the plain error standard did not compel reversal, "especially because counsel’s failure to object was likely strategic." Under the circumstances, T.L. was not entitled to a new trial. View "T.L. v. Goldberg" on Justia Law

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In the late 1990s, people who had taken the prescription diet-drug combination Fen-Phen began suing Wyeth, claiming that the drugs caused valvular heart disease. A 2000 settlement included creation of the Fen-Phen Settlement Trust to compensate class members who had sustained heart damage. Claims required medical evidence. Attorneys who represented certain claimants retained Tai, a board-certified Level 2-qualified cardiologist, to read tests and prepare reports. Tai read 12,000 tests and asserted that he was owed $2 million dollars for his services. Tai later acknowledged that in about 10% of the cases, he dictated reports consistent with the technicians’ reports despite knowing that the measurements were wrong, and that he had his technician and office manager review about 1,000 of the tests because he did not have enough time to do the work. A review of the forms Tai submitted found that, in a substantial number of cases, the measurements were clearly incorrect and were actually inconsistent with a human adult heart. Tai was convicted of mail and wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341 and 1343, was sentenced to 72 months’ imprisonment, and was ordered to pay restitution of $4,579,663 and a fine of $15,000. The Third Circuit rejected arguments that the court erred by implicitly shifting the burden of proof in its “willful blindness” jury instruction and applying upward adjustments under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines for abuse of a position of trust and use of a special skill, but remanded for factual findings concerning whether Tai supervised a criminally culpable subordinate, as required for an aggravated role enhancement. View "United States v. Tai" on Justia Law

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Defendants, two of three lawyers who represented several hundred Kentucky clients in a mass-tort action against the manufacturer of the defective diet drug "fen-phen," settled the case for $200 million, which entitled them under their retainer agreements to approximately $22 million each in attorney fees. By visiting clients and obtaining their signatures on "confidential settlements," for lesser amounts, the two actually disbursed slightly more than $45 million, less than 23 percent of the total settlement. The lawyers kept the remainder for themselves and associated counsel, transferring much of it from the escrow account to various other accounts, including out-of-state accounts. The scheme was discovered; the lawyers were disbarred and convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, 1349. One was sentenced to 240 months, the other to 300 months. They were ordered to pay more than $127 million in restitution. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting a variety of challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and trial procedures. View "United States v. Cunningham" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former corporate officer, sued defendant, his former employer, for advancement and indemnification in connection with several proceedings that arose out of regulatory and criminal investigations at the defendant corporation following defendant's distribution of oversized morphine sulfate tablets into the market. The dispute centered around whether plaintiff succeeded on the merits of any of the proceedings at issue, thus entitling him to indemnification as a matter of law, or whether additional discovery was required to determine whether plaintiff acted in good faith, in which case he would be entitled to indemnification under the Indemnification Agreement. The court found that plaintiff was not entitled to advancement for the Jail Records Matter; was not entitled to mandatory indemnification for the Criminal Matter or the HHS Exclusion Matter; was entitled to mandatory indemnification for the FDA Consent Decree Matter; and that the evidence relevant to plaintiff's claims for permissive identification was limited to plaintiff's conduct, and the facts related to that conduct, underlying the proceedings for which indemnification was sought. View "Hermelin v. K-V Pharmaceutical Co." on Justia Law