Zometa is a brand name for the medication zoledronic acid, which is used to treat various conditions, including osteoporosis and certain types of cancer. Zometa was targeted for a small but signfiicant number of lawsuits alleging that it causes osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ).
What Is ONJ?
ONJ is a condition where the jawbone begins to die due to a lack of blood supply. The biggest symptoms of OJN are pain and difficult eating or even speaking. ONJ is linked to the use of bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that includes Zometa. The first reports of ONJ in patients taking bisphosphonates appeared in the early 2000s. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against Novartis, the manufacturer of Zometa, claiming Zometa caused their ONJ.
Like most drug lawsuits, the plaintiffs did not argue for a Zometa recall. The majority of these lawsuits wered filed by patients or their surviving families who claim that drugmaker failed to adequately warn about the risk of ONJ that traveled with Zometa. They argue that Novartis either knew or should have known that bisphosphonates could cause ONJ that it should have passed along to doctors and patients. Why? Because they did not want people to stop buying Zometa. Keep in mind that Novartis at one point agreed to pay $250 million to settle allegations that it provided kickbacks to doctors and hospitals to promote Zometa and other drugs. The company was also fined by the US Department of Justice for illegal marketing practices. So the allegation that Novartis put profits over people is not exactly out of left field, right?
Victories at Trial
Despite these arguments, a number of Zometa ONJ lawsuits have been successful. In 2010, a jury in New Jersey awarded $8 million to a woman who claimed that Zometa caused her to develop ONJ. There was a $10 million verdict in New York; a $3 million verdictin Montana. In 2011, another jury in New Jersey awarded $285,000 to a man who claimed that the drug caused him to develop the condition. We mention another verdict in more detail below.
In addition to these individual lawsuits, there have been a number of class action lawsuits filed against Novartis, seeking compensation for individuals who have developed ONJ after taking Zometa. These lawsuits were consolidated in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.
In 2013, Novartis reached a settlement in the MDL, agreeing to pay $24 million to resolve the majority of the ONJ claims. The settlement included a framework for resolving remaining cases and provided compensation to eligible individuals who have suffered from ONJ as a result of taking Zometa.
Despite the settlement, a number of individual Zometa ONJ lawsuits have continued to be filed in the US. While some of these cases have been dismissed, others have gone to trial, with some resulting in substantial awards for plaintiffs and other were dismissed, settled, or Novartis won at trial.
Story of a Zometa Verdict
A terrific victory was achieved by plaintiff Peggy Stevens of Missouri in her quest to hold Novartis responsible for covering up the dangers of their osteoporosis drug Zometa. Like Fosamax and other bisphosphonate-drugs, Zometa can cause a condition known as osteonecrosis of the jaw, particularly when the patient undergoes invasive dental procedures (tooth extractions, root canals, etc.).
The jury of 12 deliberated for eight hours over two days in the Missoula District Court before concluding that Novartis was responsible for $822,000 in lost income and $2,378,000 in non-economic damages (pain, mental anguish, inconvenience, etc.), for a total verdict of $3.2 million.
Ms. Stevens showed the jury that Novartis hid relevant information and failed to appropriately and reasonably warn patients of the drug’s dangers. The only warning about osteonecrosis of the jaw was given in a 20-fold pamphlet inside the drug’s box, in tiny print. Look at the picture—is this something that should not be front and center? Additionally, internal company e-mails revealed that the company worked to suppress information on the dangers.
Zometa Lawsuits in 2023
We are unaware of any lawyers handling Zometa lawsuits in 2023. We are not.