Roche Holding AG faces a lineup of Hollywood stars in the New Jersey trial of an actor’s lawsuit alleging he suffered the loss of his colon after taking the company’s Accutane acne drug.
James Marshall, who played U.S. Marine Louden Downey in the 1992 hit movie “A Few Good Men,” claims his acting career was derailed by his use of Accutane, which Roche no longer sells. Marshall will ask a jury to award at least $11 million in damages at a trial starting next week that will feature testimony from stars such as Martin Sheen and Brian Dennehy, according to court filings.
Sheen, Dennehy and director Rob Reiner will testify that Marshall, 43, was headed for stardom before bowel ailments allegedly caused by Accutane forced doctors to remove his colon, Michael Hook, the actor’s lawyer, said in an interview. Basel, Switzerland-based Roche faces thousands of lawsuits claiming it failed to warn patients that the drug could cause inflammatory bowel disease in some users, Hook said.
“The jury will hear that James Marshall had the potential to be the next James Dean-like star,” Hook said. “That dream is gone because he took something to treat acne.”
Roche said today that Accutane’s safety label has warned about the risks of inflammatory bowel disease for more than 20 years.
“Since 1984, Roche has responsibly warned about the possibility of inflammatory bowel disease to the medical, scientific and regulatory communities, even though the science to this date questions whether such a link exists,” Christopher Vancheri, a New Jersey-based spokesman for Roche, said in an e-mailed statement.
About 13 million people have taken Accutane, once Roche’s second-biggest selling drug, since it went on the market in 1982. Roche lost patent protection on the drug in 2002 and continued to sell it along with generic competitors. In addition to bowel disease, Accutane has been linked to birth defects and depression.
Roche, the world’s biggest maker of cancer drugs, pulled its brand-name Accutane off the market in 2009 after juries awarded millions of dollars in damages to former users over the bowel-disease claims.
“Roche has been faced with high costs from personal-injury lawsuits that the company continues to defend vigorously,” company officials said in a 2009 statement.
The company has lost all seven Accutane cases that have been considered by juries since 2007, including the last three in a row, Hook said. New Jersey and Florida juries ordered the drugmaker to pay a total of at least $45 million in damages in those cases, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.
Appeals courts later threw out two of the verdicts, including a 2007 award of $7 million to a Florida man who blamed the drug for his inflammatory bowel disease. In February, an Atlantic City, New Jersey, jury ordered Roche to pay $25.1 million to a man who attributed his inflammatory bowel disease to Accutane. The case was a retrial of an earlier verdict that was overturned by an appeals court.
Roche has won dismissals of Accutane cases filed in federal court and has challenged the state court verdicts by asking judges to throw them out or filing appeals, Vancheri said in today’s statement.
Marshall’s case has been combined with claims by two other former Accutane users for trial before Judge Carol Higbee in state court in Atlantic City.
Accutane is made by Roche unit Hoffmann-LaRoche Inc. of Nutley, New Jersey, allowing Marshall, Gillian Gaghan and Kelley Andrews to bring their claims in the state. All three are California residents. Andrews, 29, is an account manager while Gaghan, 34, is a nursing assistant.
All three contend the drug left them struggling to deal with their bodily wastes, Hook said. Both Andrews and Marshall battle incontinence while Gaghan has developed lupus as a result of taking drugs to deal with her Accutane-linked bowel disease, the lawyer said.
Sheen, 69, who appeared in films such as “Apocalypse Now” and “Wall Street,” has known Marshall since he was a baby, Hook said.
Sheen met Marshall’s family in New York while Sheen was a young actor, Hook said. Marshall’s father was a publicist for Radio City Music Hall and Marshall’s mother danced with the Rockettes, the lawyer said.
Marshall was born James Greenblatt in 1967, according to court filings. The family moved to California from Bergen County, New Jersey, in the 1980s, Hook said.
Sheen is scheduled to testify in person about Marshall’s potential as an actor, Hook said. Other Hollywood figures on Marshall’s witness list include Reiner, who directed Marshall in “A Few Good Men.” Reiner, 63, is also known for his role as Michael “Meathead” Stivic in the 1970s television sitcom “All in the Family.”
Reiner, who will testify by videotaped deposition, will tell jurors Marshall had a bright future in the entertainment business that was cut short by his Accutane-related illnesses, Hook said.
Dennehy 72, who appeared in films such as the 1977 pro football comedy “Semi-Tough” and the 1983 Cold War thriller “Gorky Park,” will appear in person along with Esai Morales, who played a police lieutenant on the TV series “NYPD Blue” in the early 1990s, according to court filings.
Marshall also will call Rick Nicita, chairman of independent film producer Morgan Creek Productions and a former Hollywood talent agent, to tell jurors about Marshall’s potential in the entertainment industry, Hook said.
The case is Greenblatt v. Hoffman-La Roche Inc., ATL-l-1246-06, New Jersey Superior Court, Atlantic County (Atlantic City).