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The New Jersey Supreme Court has granted a request this week to consolidate all Abilify gambling cases filed in that state before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.
Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals currently face a growing number of product liability lawsuits over failure to warn about the risk of gambling addictions from Abilify, each raising similar allegations that if users and the medical community had been warned that the drug make cause uncontrollable urges to gamble or engage in other compulsive behaviors, users may have avoided devastating gambling losses and financial consequences of their impulsive actions.
Plaintiffs maintain that the drug makers knew or should have known about the link between Abilify and gambling, which has been found to emerge shortly after starting use of the drug or increasing the dose. Since users, doctors and family members were unaware that the medication may be causing sudden increases in gambling activities, plaintiffs maintain that they could have avoided devastating impacts on their family and financial stability.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, about 400 of the Abilify cases have already been centralized before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida, as part of a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL). However, with a number of cases also filed in New Jersey state court, where Bristol-Myers Squibb’s headquarters are located, the New Jersey Supreme Court has granted a request to establish similar consolidation before one judge.
On May 9, the Acting Administrative Director of New Jersey Courts, Glenn A. Grant, issued a Notice To the Bar (PDF) announcing that a New Jersey multicounty litigation (MCL) has been established for all Abilify cases filed in that state, transferring the claims to the New Jersey Superior Court of Atlantic County under Judge Nelson C. Johnson. About 40 product liability lawsuits over Abilify gambling problems are currently pending in New Jersey courts.
At the federal level, 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.
The outcome of these early trial dates are being closely watched by Abilify 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.
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.