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Abilify Gambling Lawyers to Meet with MDL Judge for Case Management Conference

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Plaintiffs and defendants involved in the federal Abilify gambling lawsuits have been unable to agree on an agenda for a status conference scheduled for this week, due to opposing positions on various discovery issues in the litigation. 

There are currently about 200 product liability lawsuits pending in the federal court system against Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, each raising similar allegations that users and the medical community were not adequately warned that side effects of Abilify may cause compulsive behaviors, such as uncontrollable gambling, shopping, sexual activity or other destructive actions.

The lawsuits allege that the drug makers knew or should known about the risks associated with Abilify, yet failed to warn consumers or the medical community about the importance of monitoring for signs that may emerge shortly after starting use of the drug, or increasing the dose.

Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed nationwide, the 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.

Judge Rodgers has previously established a 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.

On August 24, plaintiffs sent a letter (PDF) to Judge Rodgers, indicating that the parties were unable to submit a joint proposed agenda a case management conference set for August 31, due to disagreements over several issues.

Plaintiffs indicate that Defendants have submitted two revised agendas in recent days, but have not provided enough information to allow the parties to work together.

“As an initial matter, Plaintiffs recognize the practicalities of the situation. Plaintiffs have repeatedly advised the Defendants of this and expressed their desire and willingness to work with Defendants to adjust the pretrial deadlines,” the letter states. “However, Plaintiffs cannot operate in a vacuum and need information from Defendants in order to make informed decisions. Unfortunately, Defendants have not provided Plaintiffs with any meaningful information to make informed decisions to determine if reasonable adjustments to the pretrial schedule might be necessary.”

At issue is the time needed for Defendants to produce relevant documents on the issue of causation. The drug maker has suggested that they need nine more months to produce all the documents, which could push back the start of the first bellwether trials. However, plaintiffs say that defendants have not explained how they calculated the time they need to meet the discovery requirements.

The plaintiffs’ agenda for the upcoming conference calls for discussions on the defendants’ proposed schedule modification and the current status of discovery, the status of case specific discovery, motions to compel, a motion by defendants to maintain documents under seal and updates other aspects of the litigation.

Abilify lawyers are investigating several thousand additional gambling claims that have not yet been filed, gathering documentation of gambling losses or other damages to support the filing of a lawsuit against the drug makers for failure to warn.

As a result of difficulties plaintiffs have experienced obtaining records and documentation for gambling problems on Abilify, Judge Rodgers has issued prior orders designed to assist in gathering information from casinos, financial firms and other entities that have exclusive possession of data needed for the claims.

At the same time Abilify cases are moving forward in the federal MDL, a parallel state court litigation has been established in New Jersey, where Superior Court Judge James De Luca is presiding over all cases filed in the state, and established a bellwether track where the first trials could begin by the end of 2018.

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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