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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all Abilify gambling lawsuits indicates that the first bellwether trial go before a jury as planned in June 2018, despite previous expectations that the start of the first trials may be delayed.
Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals currently face more than 400 product liability lawsuits over failure to warn about the risk of compulsive behavior problems with Abilify. Each of the complaints raise similar allegations that information was withheld from users and the medical community about the risk that the atypical antipsychotic drug may cause users to experience uncontrollable urges to gamble, shop, engage in risky sexual activity or other destructive behavior.
Plaintiffs maintain that the drug makers knew or should have known about the link between Abilify and gambling, which may emerge shortly after starting use of the drug or increasing the dose. If proper warnings had been provided, plaintiffs claim that they may have avoided substantial financial losses, which have had a devastating impact on their financial stability.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, 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.
The first trials were originally scheduled to begin in June 2018, but that trial date came into question following a case management order in September, which indicated that the original discovery schedule might not be feasible. At that time, Judge Rodgers provided the parties with several alternative options, providing for the start of the first cases between June and August of 2018.
However, according to court minutes (PDF) from a status conference held on December 14, Judge Rodgers set a new schedule, with the first trial still slated to begin in June 2018. The minutes indicate that an exact date will be confirmed later by the law clerk.
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.
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.