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Centralization Sought for Abilify Gambling Cases in New Jersey State Court

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The New Jersey Supreme Court is considering a request to consolidate and centralize all Abilify lawsuits filed in that state court system, which each involve similar allegations that the popular antipsychotic medication caused users to develop costly gambling addictions and engage in other compulsive behaviors. 

Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals currently face a growing number of product liability claims over failure to warn about the Abilify gambling risks, each raising similar allegations that if users and the medical community had been warned that the drug make cause uncontrollable urges to gamble, shop, engage in risk sexual activity or other destructive behavior, that users of the medication may have avoided irreversible consequences from their actions while under the influence of the medication.

Plaintiffs maintain that the drug makers knew or should have known about the link between Abilify and gambling, which may emerge shortly after starting use of the drug or increasing the dose. Since they were unaware that the medication may be causing sudden increases in gambling activities, plaintiffs maintain that they could have avoided substantial financial losses, which have had a devastating impact on their family and financial stability.

Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, about 400 of the Abilify cases have been centralized before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida, as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation, which is designed to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and service the convenience of witnesses, parties and the judicial system.

With dozens of similar claims filed in New Jersey state courts, where Bristol-Myers Squibb is based, a request has been filed to establish similar centralized pretrial proceedings in the state, as part of a Multicounty Litigation (MCL).

Last week, a Notice To The Bar (PDF) was issued by Glenn A. Grant, the Acting Administrative Director of the New Jersey Courts, indicating that anyone wishing to comment on or object to an application filed by the drug makers must provide their response by January 26, 2018.

Currently Superior Court Judge James De Luca is presiding over about 40 cases pending in New Jersey state courts, and established a bellwether track where the first trials could begin by the end of 2018.

At the federal level, Judge Rodgers previously established an aggressive bellwether program, where a small group of cases are being fast tracked for early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain issues and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation. However, the Court will first consider whether plaintiffs have sufficient evidence to establish a general causation link between Abilify and impulsive or compulsive behavior.

The outcome of these early trial dates are being closely watched by Abilify lawyers involved in the litigation, as thousands of additional gambling claims are continuing to be reviewed and filed. The pace of filing new cases has been slowed by the difficult process involved in gathering documentation of ability losses or other damages to support the claims, which are often not in the possession of plaintiffs or their physicians.

While the outcome of early trial dates in the MDL or other state court litigation will not be binding on other claims in the litigation, they will be closely watched by parties involved in the lawsuits, as they may influence eventual Abilify settlement negotiations to avoid the need for hundreds of individual trial dates in courts nationwide.

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