There was a time when we paid quite a bit of attention to the circumstances under which a participant in a clinical trial could impose liability on the sponsor of the clinical trial. We even tried a case to a defense verdict for the sponsor of a clinical trial in a case where the plaintiff claimed, as to our client and the investigator defendant, that his HIV misdiagnosis should have been reversed during the clinical trial, which involved a medication switch for patients well controlled under an existing treatment regimen. Leading up to that trial and after it, we gained a pretty good understanding of the law on liability related to clinical trials. For instance, cases have looked at whether the learned intermediary doctrine is somehow disrupted when the prescription is written by a clinical trial investigator. (Like here and here) Cases have also looked at whether participants in a clinical trial can compel the sponsor to continue providing them the study drug after the trial ends. (Like here and here) (Legislative efforts to encourage drug manufacturers to sponsor clinical trials for rare conditions have been discussed before, like here.)

For some reason, and with one recent exception, it seems like there have been fewer of these cases in the last few years. There are certainly lots of clinical trials going on and, presumably, patients in them who might claim some injury, physical or otherwise, from their participation. Could it be that the putative plaintiffs have backed off of trying to sue clinical trial sponsors? Could it be that the plaintiff lawyers have read the rulings and decided these cases are not worth bringing? Could it be that the cases still exist, but we are not seeing decisions from them caught in the net Bexis uses to find blogworthy decisions?

We may never know the real answer, but we did see an appellate decision from New York last week in Wholey v. Amgen, Inc., — N.Y.S.3d –, 2018 WL 4866993 (N.Y. App. Div. Oct. 9, 2018). Wholey involved claims of injury from the use of a well-known and often-studied FDA-approved prescription drug both during and after a clinical trial. The defendants filed motions to dismiss, which were granted in part and denied in part, and an appeal ensued. This is the part we care about:

As the sponsors of a clinical trial, defendants owed no duty to the plaintiff Lauren Wholey, as enrollee in the trial (see Sykes v. United States, 507 Fed. Appx. 455, 462 (6th Cir. 2012); Abney v. Amgen, Inc., 443 F.3d 540, 550 (6th Cir. 2006)). Thus, her claims concerning the drug Enbrel must be limited to those that allegedly arose after she stopped participating in the trial and was prescribed the drug as a patient.

Id. at *1. When we said that was the part we care about, we meant it. That is the full discussion of the issue of liability for the sponsors of a clinical trial. No duty means no liability. We appreciate the finality and brevity of the analysis. We emulate the brevity here.