Johnson & Johnson has been accused of tampering with witnesses in two separate cases involving defective products manufactured by two subsidiaries, Janssen and Depuy. The Depuy case is the third bellwether trial in an MDL overseen by Federal Judge Edward Kinkeade, who requested that the FBI look into the matter. The Janssen case is being heard in a court in Philadelphia.
According to thousands of plaintiffs involved in the Multidistrict Litigation, Depuy’s Pinnacle hip implant is linked to cases of metallosis, pseudotumors, and other conditions caused by the leaching of cobalt and chromium, two metals used in the manufacturing of the device. Plaintiffs have had to undergo serious revision surgeries and rehabilitative treatment to resolve their medical issues.
Tampering With Dr. Shein
Dr. David Shein, a witness in the bellwether trial, was approached by a sales representative from Depuy during a surgical operation. The representative spoke of “business ramifications” in a not-so-veiled threat meant to dissuade Shein from testifying.
In an affidavit submitted to the court, Shein recounted the interaction in great detail. A Depuy rep named Glen Swajger spoke with Dr. Shein while he was scrubbing in for surgery. Swajger’s presence was required for a procedure. The sales rep said that the Depuy lawyers were “on him like crazy” and exerting “big time pressure.” According to Dr. Shein, “[Swajger] was worried there could be ramifications for me in my practice.” “I care about you,” Swajger told Shein in an attempt to cloak his remarks in an air of affability.
Plaintiff attorney Mark Lanier expressed dismay at the defendant’s behavior: “It is extremely concerning to me when there are requirements under the federal law, as well as state law, that witnesses not be tampered with, that—that it’s a serious felony, that it involves prison time, that it cuts to the core of who we are as a people and what our courts are about.” Similarly, Judge Kinkeade, who presides at U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, said the news of the tampering was “disturbing and disconcerting to me.”
The Second Tampering
The Janssen case is being heard at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, where Lynn Hartman is seeking redress for gastrointestinal bleeding allegedly linked to the company’s drug, Xarelto. Hartman’s treating physician, Dr. Timothy Aldridge was supposed to be a key witness in the trial. He originally told the plaintiff’s attorneys that Xarelto had aggravated Hartman’s gastrointestinal bleeding, but after a questionable meeting between Aldridge and a sales rep from Janssen, the witness changed his testimony drastically, saying he wasn’t even sure whether Ms. Hartman ever had gastrointestinal bleeding in the first place.
Johnson & Johnson immediately tried to cover up the allegations, submitting a motion for a gag order to preemptively stop anyone from mentioning the accusations.
The Depuy MDL, which involves nearly 9,100 different cases, has been high stakes for some time now. Back in October, 2017, lawyers on both sides were casting aspersions left and right, with Lanier accusing the defense of superfluous objections and questionable behavior, and defense attorney John Beisner accusing plaintiffs of bringing surprise evidence to the table in an attempt to sway the jury. The stakes have been as high as the verdicts, which have amounted to over $1 billion in one case and $500 million in another.
Profits Over People
It appears Johnson & Johnson would do anything to reverse the trajectory of these rulings, which could cost the company a lot of money. According to a brief filed by plaintiffs, the defense has been doing everything it can to slow down the trials. The brief sates, “Defendants’ counsel asserted continuous, repetitive, and meritless objections to questions and documents offered in evidence.” The brief alludes to a previous trial where the defendants “employed a strategy […] designed to prevent Plaintiffs from fairly presenting their evidence.”
In the end, Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries are working to reduce their monetary losses. And it seems they’re willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of those harmed by their products to do so.