Judge Permits Abilify Gambling Lawsuits to Move Forward, Denying Motion for Summary Judgment

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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Abilify lawsuits has rejected a motion for summary judgment filed by the manufacturer of the antipsychotic medication, which has been linked to reports of sudden gambling addictions and other compulsive behaviors, clearing the way for a series of bellwether cases to proceed toward trial.

Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals currently face several hundred product liability lawsuits, each raising similar allegations that users and the medical community were not adequately warned about the risk of gambling problems caused by Abilify, with complaints filed by plaintiffs nationwide presenting similar situations where users of the drug suddenly engaged in reckless and uncontrollable gambling, or other destructive behaviors that began shortly after starting use of the medication or increasing the dosage.

Given similar questions of fact and law raised in the litigation, all federal cases are currently centralized before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida, as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation, where a small group of “bellwether” cases are being prepared for early trial dates to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

Last month, following Daubert challenges to the admissibility of expert witness testimony, Judge Rodgers entered an Order denying the drug maker’s motion to dismiss the claims on the basis of general causation. The order was provisionally issued under seal, to protect disclosures of confidential information. However, Judge Rodgers has indicated that after reviewing any motions for good cause to withhold portions of the order, the ruling will be unsealed or released with redactions.

The ruling suggests that Judge Rodgers has found that the expert witness testimony provided by plaintiffs is sufficiently reliable to allow the jury to consider the issue about whether there is a link between Abilify and gambling addictions.

In May 2016, the FDA required the drug makers to add new warnings about the risk of compulsive behaviors on Abilify, urging doctors, patients and caregivers to be on the lookout for symptoms of uncontrollable urges to gamble, binge eat, shop and engage in risk sexual activity.

Plaintiffs maintain that if earlier warnings had been provided, they may have avoided substantial gambling losses, which have had devastating impacts on the family and financial stability for users of the medication.

Judge Rodgers previously established an aggressive bellwether program, where a 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, which are expected to begin this summer.

According to a case management order (PDF) issued following a conference held by Judge Rodgers last week, the parties have also been directed to meet and confer on a protocol for selecting a second group of cases for discovery and additional bellwether trials, which must be submitted by March 15.

While the outcomes of these early trials are not binding on other plaintiffs, they will be closely watched by those involved in the litigation, and may influence eventual negotiations to reach Abilify settlements that would avoid the need for hundreds of separate trial dates nationwide.

As Abilify lawyers continue to investigate and review additional gambling claims involving former users of the medication, it is widely expected that the size and scope of the litigation will continue to increase over the coming months, likely involving several thousand lawsuits that will eventually need to be addressed.

Following all bellwether trials scheduled in the federal MDL, if the parties fail to settle Abilify gambling cases or otherwise resolve the litigation, Judge Rodgers is likely to start remanding individual claims back to U.S. District Courts nationwide for trial management.

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