Product News and Recalls

PA Supreme Court Refuses to Throw out Yaz Lawsuits

King’s Bench Petition Denied

Today the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Bayer’s King’s Bench Petition in the Yaz/Yasmin litigation. In plain English, this means that these lawsuits, many of which were pending since 2009, and which were put on hold late last year, can now go forward.

Some Background

Several thousand women from across the country have sued Bayer in state Court in Philadelphia. The basis of the lawsuit is that Bayer Corporation, and its subsidiaries, which manufacture Yaz, Yasmin, Beyaz, and Ocella, failed to warn consumers that these drugs increase the risk of blood clots and gallbladder surgery. Women who suffered these injuries are requesting compensation.

The defendants took advantage of a relatively obscure legal principle called forum non conveniens, or “inconvenient forum”, to argue that women who do not live in Pennsylvania should not be allowed to bring a lawsuit Pennsylvania, where Bayer is headquartered. Bayer argued that although it is headquartered in Pennsylvania, only its subsidiaries (and related companies) are involved in Yaz, Yasmin, Beyaz, and Ocella, and they are in New Jersey and Germany. In turn, the women suing argued that Bayer is located in Pennsylvania and therefore lawsuits in Pennsylvania are appropriate.

The judge considered Bayer’s arguments and denied its motion to have the out-of-state cases dismissed. Bayer asked the judge to reconsider, which was denied. Bayer then appealed to the state’s intermediate appellate court, which denied the appeal. The company also made an extraordinary petition, known as a “King’s Bench Petition” to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, claiming that the trial court judge was wrong and the Supreme Court should intervene to correct her errors. (The King’s Bench terminology is derived from the days in England when the King heard extraordinary petitions. Over time, judges were appointed to hear these petitions, which evolved into today’s appeals courts.)

Following the appeal, the trial court judge determined that it would be imprudent to bring an out-of-state case to trial while the appeal was pending, so on December 21, 2011, she ordered a halt to all trials involving out-of-state plaintiffs “pending the PA Supreme Court’s decision” on this issue. On February 2, 2012, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its decision: a unanimous denial of the petition in all nine cases that were on appeal.

Practical Implications

The PA Supreme Court’s decision not to consider Bayer’s arguments, has three main implications. First, until now, there was the possibility that thousands of cases would be dismissed from the Pennsylvania trial court and would have to be re-filed in another jurisdiction, causing needless delay and expense for the plaintiffs. Now, the plaintiffs will most likely be able to avoid this delay. Second, cases that were being prepared for trial can now be given trial dates, which leads to the third implication: This will keep the pressure on Bayer during the settlement negotiations that have been ordered. With any luck, it will increase the chances that women across the country are able to come to an agreement with Bayer regarding these cases, so that they can receive reasonable compensation and encourage drug companies to provide adequate warnings.