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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Abilify gambling addiction lawsuits indicates that the first bellwether trials may be delayed from their originally scheduled start in June 2018, due to an “ambitious” discovery schedule that may not be feasible for the parties.
There are currently about 365 product liability lawsuits pending in the federal court system against Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, each raising similar allegations that the drug makers failed to provide adequate warnings about the risk that side effects of Abilify may cause users to engage in compulsive behaviors, such as uncontrollable gambling, shopping, sexual activity or other destructive actions.
Plaintiffs indicate that the drug makers knew or should have known about the link between Abilify and gambling problems, yet withheld information from consumers and the medical community that could have allowed users to monitor for signs that may emerge shortly after starting use of the drug or increasing the dose, which may have allowed them to avoid financial losses that can devastate a family’s finances.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed in federal 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 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.
Originally, the first Abilify bellwether trials were expected to begin in June 2018. However, in a case management order (PDF) issued on September 29, Judge Rodgers recognized that the original discovery schedule may not be feasible and has provided the parties with several alternative options, where the first trial may start between June 2018 and August 2018, with a second trial to begin between July 2018 and October 2018.
The parties have been directed to meet and confirm this week, and notify the Court of their preference by October 5.
The outcome of these early trial dates are being closely watched by 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.
Judge Rodgers previously issued orders designed to assist in the gathering of Abilify gambling information and documentation from casinos, financial firms and other entities.
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.