Why Levaquin Mass Tort Ruling May Favor J&J

Last Updated Jul 4, 2009 6:49 PM EDT

New Jersey Supreme Court's consolidation of cases regarding the antibiotic Levaquin into a mass tort in Atlantic County Superior Court at first looks like bad news for Johnson & Johnson. After all, Judge Carol Higbee's courthouse-by-the-casinos is where Merck was eventually forced into a $4.85 billion settlement of its Vioxx cases.

But there's reason to believe that J&J's lawyers may have pumped their fists in the air upon hearing of the decision.

First, let's acknowledge that the Levaquin cases -- which claim Levaquin caused Achilles' tendon ruptures and tendonitis -- are completely different from the Vioxx cases. Putting that aside, now ask whether the Vioxx outcome was really all that bad for Merck. It wasn't. Merck had faced $20 billion in potential Vioxx liability, but:

Of the 20 cases tried ... 15 ended in defense verdicts or hung juries. Merck's success in the courtroom was a stick that it used in negotiations with the plaintiffs.
J&J may look at that result -- a settlement coming in at about 25 percent of the worst-case scenario -- as a promising start.