The New Jersey Supreme Court has decided that all lawsuits over Levaquin, an antibiotic that has been linked to an increased risk of debilitating tendon ruptures, will be provided mass tort treatment. Cases filed throughout the state will be consolidated and assigned to a single judge for coordinated handling.
Lawyers representing plaintiffs who allegedly suffered a Levaquin tendon rupture sought the mass-tort treatment and recommended that the cases be transferred to Atlantic County. Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson which manufactured the drug, supported the mass-tort treatment but requested that the cases be assigned to Middlesex County, where their headquarters are located.
The cases have been assigned to Judge Carol Higbee in the Atlantic County Superior Cout, who has experience handling previous mass-tort cases, including thousands of Vioxx lawsuits against Merck.
All of the Levaquin lawsuits contain similar allegations, that the drug maker failed to adequately research the tendon problems associated with the antibiotic or warn users about the increased risk of tendon ruptures, often involving the Achilles tendon.
Mass tort designation was granted because the court agreed that the litigation will likely expand into thousands of cases with the same defendants and similar issues of fact, injury and damages.
Levaquin (levofloxacin) was approved by the FDA as an antibiotic in 1996, and it is available as an oral tablet, oral solution or as an injection. In July 2008, the FDA required a black box warning to be placed on the medication indicating that Levaquin side effects increase the risk of tendon ruptures and tendonitis. The warning came more than two years after the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen filed a petition with the FDA requesting that those warnings be added.
All federal lawsuits over Levaquin have already been consolidated into a multidistrict litigation, or MDL, for pretrial litigation in the District of Minnesota. It is likely that Judge Higbee and District Judge John R. Tunheim, who is assigned to the federal MDL, will coordinate discovery and other pretrial proceedings to avoid duplicative discovery and inconsistent rulings. The first Levaquin trial in the MDL is currently scheduled to begin in August 2010.