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The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division has issued a reversal of a 2010 trial court verdict awarding plaintiff Andrew McCarrell $25 million in damages for injuries he suffered as a result of using the drug Accutane, manufactured by New Jersey-based defendants Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. and Roche Laboratories. The court found that the trial court erred in applying the New Jersey statute of limitations to McCarrell's claim as opposed to the statute of limitations of Alabama, where the plaintiff resided, and that under Alabama's stricter statute of limitations, the plaintiff's claims were time-barred. 

Accutane is often prescribed to treat acne that has not responded to other types of treatments. The drug carries with it a large number of side effects, ranging from dry lips, skin and eyes and joint pain to more severe side effects including birth defects and a propensity for irritable bowel syndrome, which can manifest as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. McCarrell had taken Accutane for several months in 1995, and was later diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which is generally a permanent disease for which there is no known cure, and causes the sufferer to experience abdominal pain, fatigue, anemia, fever, dehydration, cramping and bloating, among other symptoms. After first developing symptoms in 1996, McCarrell's entire colon and rectum were surgically removed and replaced with a pouch, and he has continued to suffer painful symptoms in the years since.

McCarrell filed suit against the Accutane manufacturers in New Jersey state court in 2003, and an initial verdict awarding him over $2.5 million in damages was handed down in 2007, but then later reversed due to the fact that certain defenses were excluded at trial. When the case was retried in 2010, a jury awarded McCarrell $159,000 in medical expenses and $25 million in compensatory damages for his injuries.

This most recent court ruling, however, successfully reversed this $25 million verdict based on the fact that the trial court improperly applied the New Jersey statute of limitations rather than the Alabama statute of limitations. A statute of limitations sets the period of time in which a plaintiff must bring a claim against a defendant before the claim will be barred. In New Jersey, a plaintiff has two years to bring a tort claim from the time of discovery of the injuries, but this period can be considered to be started at a later point or "tolled" until the time at which the "injured party discovers, or by an exercise of reasonable diligence and intelligence should have discovered that he may have a basis for an actionable claim." This means that an injured party's two-year statute of limitations period can be considered to start at the later point when it became clear to him that he had a potential legal claim for his injuries. Alabama only allows a statute of limitations for a tort victim to be tolled in this manner where there was fraud or concealment by the defendant. Because the plaintiff became aware of his irritable bowel syndrome in 1996, but did not bring his lawsuit until 2003, the court found that, under Alabama's statute of limitations, he could not bring his claims against the defendants here, and therefore he was not entitled to the $25 million the jury believed he was owed.

This case demonstrates the critical importance of seeking out legal assistance as soon as you become aware of injuries that you have suffered which might be the result of another's actions. Not only will engaging the services of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney early on help with investigating the facts of your case, but, as this case shows, it may be the difference between obtaining compensation for your injuries or having no recourse against those who have caused your injuries.

If you have suffered harm as the result of taking a prescription drug, contact the Morristown attorneys at Smith & Doran today to discuss your case, at 973-292-0016.

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