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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Abilify lawsuits has selected a group of 40 cases that will be included in as part of a second bellwether process, which will be prepared for trial if the parties fail to reach a settlement to resolve claims that the popular antipsychotic caused users to suffer catastrophic damages due to uncontrollable gambling and other compulsive behaviors.
There are currently about 1,600 lawsuits pending against Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals in the federal court system, each raising similar allegations that the drug makers failed to adequately warn consumers and the medical community about link between Abilify and gambling problems, which have resulted in sudden urges to gamble that users did not recognize as a potential side effect of the drug.
Plaintiffs maintain that they would have avoided devastating Abilify gambling losses if doctors and consumers had been informed about the importance of monitoring for signs of gambling urges.
Given similar questions of fact and law, the litigation has been centralized in the Northern District of Florida before U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers, who is presiding over discovery into common issues in the cases and other pretrial proceedings.
A series of three early trial dates were expected to begin this summer, which were designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout the litigation. However, the parties reached agreements to settle those Abilify cases in late April 2018.
On August 8, Judge Rodgers issued an order (PDF) establishing a second group of 40 bellwether trial pool cases. Each side has 14 days from the date of the order to strike five of the cases selected, and the remaining pool will be reduced to 30 cases that will be prepared for early trial dates.
Once the strikes have been made, plaintiffs will have until October 12 to turn in a completed fact sheet for each plaintiff, as well as produce all medical, financial and gambling record authorizations. By December 14, each side will strike another five cases, reducing the pool again to 20 cases, which will go through a “reasonable scope” of fact discovery.
Following the completion of discovery, the parties will each select five cases for a final trial pool of 10 claims, and the Court indicates that it will select random replacements for any cases subsequently removed from the pool.
Judge Rodgers indicates that the Court is still considering whether it should consolidate some of the Abilify cases for trial, and that it is leaning toward conducting a consolidated trial.
While the outcomes of these bellwether trials will not be binding on other plaintiffs, they will be closely watched by lawyers involved in the litigation, helping to weigh the relative strengths and weaknesses of their positions. Ultimately, if the parties fail to reach an agreement Abilify settlements for the gambling cases, each individual claim pending in the MDL may be remanded back to U.S. District Courts nationwide for individual trial dates in the future.