Abilify Gambling Lawsuit Filings Delayed as Cases Investigated, Vetted

The rate of new Abilify lawsuits filed in the recently established MDL has been slower than anticipated, as lawyers continue to investigate and obtain records in support of claims for individuals who experienced gambling problems after using the medication. As a result, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation may consider changes to an aggressive discovery schedule.

In October 2016, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established consolidated pretrial proceedings in the federal court system for all product liability lawsuits filed against Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Phamaceuticals over failure to warn about the link between Abilify and gambling addiction, centralizing the cases before U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the judicial system.

Each of the complaints raise similar questions of fact and law, alleging that the makers of the popular medication withheld information from consumers and the medical community that users of Abilify may experience uncontrollable urges to gamble, shop, engage in sexual activity and other impulsive behaviors.

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At the time the MDL (Multidistrict Litigation) was formed, there were about 50 lawsuits filed. That number has increased to 94, but in a January 14 discovery conference order (PDF), Judge Rodgers indicated that the pace of new claims being filed is slower than expected, suggesting that a new case management plan may be needed due to the current caseload.

Following a discovery conference call last week, Judge Rodgers issued another order (PDF), suggesting that the delay in filing Abilify gambling cases stems from the process of investigating and documenting the claims before filing complaints with the court.

“The parties are currently conferring regarding a creative solution to the case management concerns addressed in previous orders,” wrote Judge Rodgers in the filing posted to the MDL docket on January 19. “According to Plaintiffs, one reason for the delay in filing the number of cases needed to proceed with the current Bellwether plan involves counsel’s difficulty in procuring the documents necessary to fully vet the claims of potential plaintiffs.”

Given the nature of the damages involved in the Abilify gambling lawsuits, documentation for the claims does not necessarily come from medical records, but requires evidence to establish patterns of compulsive gambling after being prescribed or increasing the dose of Abilify, such as large ATM withdrawals at or near casinos, or other support for the claims.

To allow the parties to exchange data on the pool of potential claims, Plaintiffs have proposed that individuals with unfiled cases be permitted to complete a Profile Form, which will be tracked in a database prior to the complaint being filed. Lawyers representing the former users of Abilify indicate that this would allow for quick updates after documentation corroborates the claims, and for cases that are not verified to be removed from the pool in the future.

“At this point, the parties are not requesting a ruling from the Court on this matter. Rather, because this proposed plan affects several upcoming deadlines, the parties jointly request a brief extension in order to continue their discussions in an effort to reach an agreement, if possible,” the order states. “Specifically, the parties request to extend the deadline to submit the Plaintiffs’ Profile Form and to file their respective position papers regarding the appropriate case management approach moving forward, given the current caseload.”

Judge Rodgers granted that request, pushing the deadline back to noon central time on Thursday of this week.

Abilify Gambling Risk

Abilify (ariprazole) is one of the top-selling brand name medications on the market in the United States, generating sales in excess of $6 billion per year. It was introduced in 2002 for treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other major depressive disorders, but is also widely used to treat irritability, aggression, mood swings and other behavior issues.

In May, the FDA required the drug makers to update the warning label to provide information for users and doctors about the potential Abilify risk of gambling, compulsive shopping and other compulsive activities, noting that a large number of adverse event reports have been received from users describing uncontrollable urges to gamble, shop, eat or engage in sexual activity.

Addictive gambling problems on Abilify can have a severe impact on users, and plaintiffs allege that if warnings had been provided about the risk, they may have avoided devastating consequences by recognizing the potential side effects associated with the medication and stopping use of the drug.

Although warnings about the potential risk were provided to medical providers and consumers outside the United States, plaintiffs in the mounting Abilify litigation claim that similar information was withheld in the United States until recently.

As part of the consolidated pretrial proceedings in the Abilify MDL, it is expected that a group of representative cases will be prepared for early trial dates, which are designed to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation. However, if Abilify settlements are not reached to resolve claims following the MDL proceedings, each individual lawsuit may be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a separate trial date.


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