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Discovery Continuing in Second Round of Abilify Bellwether Cases

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After the parties failed to finalize a global settlement for Abilify lawsuits involving compulsive gambling, discovery is moving forward on a second group of “bellwether” cases that will be set for early trial dates to help parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

There are currently more than 1,600 Abilify cases pending against Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals in the federal court system, each raising similar allegations that users developed devastating gambling addictions, or engaged in other compulsive behaviors shortly after starting use of the drug or changing doses.

Plaintiffs maintain that they would have avoided Abilify financial losses if doctors and consumers had been informed about the importance of monitoring for signs of uncontrollable urges to gamble or engage in other risk behavior.

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 viewed as “test” cases to help the parties weigh the relative strengths and weaknesses of their claims. However, before the first trial began, the parties reached agreements to settle those Abilify cases in late April 2018.

As a result of the settlement, Judge Rodgers issued an order in May, which afforded the parties until September 1 to finalize a framework for global resolution of the gambling loss claims, largely pausing other progress in the litigation.

While the parties have informed the Court at various times that negotiations were progressing, details of a settlement program have not been finalized or reported.

On September 6, parties submitted a joint proposed agenda (PDF) for a case management conference scheduled for Thursday, which outlines progress made on a small group of “bellwether” cases that have been identified for a second round of trial dates.

After each side was able to strike five cases from an original discovery pool of 40 claims, 30 cases remain that will proceed with the next phase of the discovery process.

For each of the remaining bellwether cases, the current pretrial schedule requires completed Plaintiff Fact Sheets, medical, financial and gambling records and authorizations to be provided by October 12. During the status conference tomorrow, the parties intend to discuss a potential extension of other deadlines, which would allow plaintiffs attorneys to focus on discovery in the second trial pool cases.

In a separate order (PDF) issued on September 7, Judge Rodgers also indicated that the Court will now consider prior motions to remand a number of claims originally filed in California state court. While Judge Rodgers previously deferred ruling on the motion pending the conclusion of global settlement discussions, she has now ordered the Plaintiffs to file an omnibus motion to remand by September 17, and provided Defendants until October 1 to file an opposition. Plaintiffs will file any reply by October 8, and then the Court is expected to rule on the motion.

Following the conclusion of this second round of bellwether trials, if the parties still fail to reach an agreement to settle Abilify cases or otherwise resolve the litigation, Judge Rodgers may begin remanding large numbers of cases for individual trial dates in federal courts nationwide.

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