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Eric T. Chaffin
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Will There Be NuvaRing Settlements? Answer Forthcoming in NJ Trials

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Women who suffered from blood clots and related injuries because of the NuvaRing contraceptive device may soon be compensated for their medical expenses, pain, and suffering. According to court documents filed in the NuvaRing mass tort in New Jersey, nine cases have been selected as “bellwether” lawsuits, scheduled to go to trial in February 2013.

Bellwether trials are selected as sample cases when a large group of plaintiffs have filed suit against the same company for similar reasons. These cases are tried before a jury, and the results used to estimate how the rest of the cases may resolve.

These nine cases are just a fraction of the 100 NuvaRing lawsuits pending in Bergen County Superior Court. Approximately another 800 cases have been filed in federal courts, consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. Bellwether trials for the cases in Missouri are expected to begin in late 2012 or early 2013.

Studies Confirm Blood Clot Risks

The FDA approved NuvaRing as a contraceptive device in 2002. In October 2011, however, the agency released a report noting that the contraceptive was associated with a higher risk of side effects like deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism when compared to older, more established, birth control pills.

In May 2012, the British Medical Journal published a study that concluded NuvaRing increased the risk of blood clots more than safer birth control pills. In fact, those using NuvaRing had a 90 percent higher risk of venous thrombosis than did those who used safer birth control pills containing the progestin levonorgestrel.

Companies Failed to Warn of Risks

Plaintiffs who filed lawsuits against Nuvaring manufacturer Merck & Co. and its subsidiary Organon Pharmaceuticals accuse the companies of failing to adequately warn about the risks. All hormonal birth control methods can slightly increase the risk of blood clots, but patients claim that the manufacturers failed to note that NuvaRing presented higher risks than other alternatives.

NuvaRing is a two-inch flexible plastic ring that in inserted vaginally and was marketed as being just as effective as birth control pills, without the hassle of having to remember a pill every day. Insertion of NuvaRing is required only once per month, and can be done without a doctor's assistance.

The ring releases a steady supply of hormones into the woman's body, including estrogen and a type of progestin called desogestrel, which is known as a third-generation progestin. This type of progestin, along with the fourth-generation progestin used in Yaz and Yasmin (drospirenone), has been found to increase the risk of blood clots and related health problems more than older progestins like levonorgestrel.

Trials, Settlements, or Both?

The question of how many NuvaRing lawsuits may actually go to trial still remains unanswered. Judge Rodney W. Sippel is reported to have asked the parties in the current NuvaRing litigation in Missouri to submit proposals for other ways to resolve the disputes, including mediation to assist in negotiating potential NuvaRing settlements.

Parties in the federal Yaz/Yasmin multi district litigation, for example, proceeding in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, have succeeded in negotiating settlements. Negotiations are continuing, so the end number may be much higher, but the average settlement at this point has been about $200,000. So far, no federal case has gone to trial.