"These claimants," the filing notes, "seek substantial compensatory and, where available, punitive damages.
However, the company's filing does not disclose any of settlements of cases reported over the past nine months in the press, and does not identify any financial reserves that are set aside to pay the settlements.
Legal analysts say the 500 claims are just the tip of the iceberg, because there are thousands of young women all over the country who have suffered blood clots, heart attacks and strokes who are still unaware of the culprit. And it logically follows, they say, that many families have lost a daughter, sister, wife, or mother who also do not know that the patch is to blame.
Attorneys handling these lawsuits say J&J knows these cases are easily winnable because unlike most other cases involving a specific drug, there are no preexisting conditions with women in this age group and the kind of deaths and injuries brought on by the Ortho patch are virtually unheard of in teenagers and young women of childbearing age.
For that reason, J&J has adopted a strategy to settle as many lawsuits as quickly and quietly as possible. The company has obviously taken the position that the deaths, injuries and settlements with these women are just a necessary expense of doing business in the name of profits.
In fact, many of the lawsuits have already ended in confidential settlements with barely a peep of coverage in the mainstream media. And for others cases, Johnson & Johnson has made it abundantly clear to opposing attorneys that the company is eager to cut a deal.
The New York Post was about the only major newspaper to cover the story about the payoffs. On April 9, 2006, it reported that women "who suffered life-threatening blood clots and strokes on the Ortho-Evra birth-control patch are receiving cash settlements from the manufacturer."
"Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical," the Post said, "has settled a dozen lawsuits for millions of dollars in the last few months, and more than 100 other suits are pending."
One lawyer who asked not to be identified told the Post that the company had been "approaching everyone" representing women, and that lawyers had begun submitting cases for settlement.
During its investigation, the Post used the FOIA to obtain FDA records that showed that 17 women between the ages of 17 and 30, who had used the patch, had died from unlikely causes in view of their age group, of heart attacks, blood clots, and possible strokes, since August 2002.
Doctors who reviewed the reports voiced alarm over the number of fatalities. "This is a cause for concern," warned Dr John Quagliarello, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Medical Center.
He and other doctors said that the discovery by the Post was the first they had ever heard of multiple deaths linked to the Ortho patch.