Bellwether Trial for Teen’s JUUL Addiction Lawsuit Rescheduled for September 2022

The Judge involved in coordinated pretrial proceedings decided to delay the JUUL addiction lawsuit after determining the case would be bifurcated into two phases.

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal JUUL addiction lawsuits has pushed back the start of a bellwether trial slated to begin this month until September, after deciding the claim brought by a teen who developed a vaping addiction should be bifurcated into a trial on liability and compensatory damages first, followed by a second phase which will determine if punitive damages should be awarded to punish the e-cigarette manufacturer.

JUUL labs faces more than 3,300 product liability lawsuits brought by families nationwide, each raising similar allegations that the company has engaged in a coordinated effort to market their popular e-cigarettes toward teens and prior non-smokers, to create a new generation of customers with a life-long nicotine addictions.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in complaints brought throughout the federal court system, the JUUL litigation is currently centralized before U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick III in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

Early in the proceedings, Judge Orrick acknowledged the serious public health questions raised by the JUUL vaping addiction lawsuits and established an aggressive “bellwether” process, where a small group of six personal injury cases have prepared for early trial dates, which are designed to help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

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Originally, Judge Orrick had scheduled the first JUUL bellwether trial, involving claims brought by Robin Bain on behalf of herself and her minor child, to begin on June 16. However, in a trial scheduling order (PDF) issued late last month, Judge Orrick announced that bifurcating the punitive damages from the liability phase of the trial required parties to have more time to prepare. The trial date has thus been pushed back to September 2022.

The order calls for an additional case management conference to be held this week, on June 16 via Zoom. During that conference, Judge Orrick says he plans to schedule the cases selected for the second and third bellwether trials, which will be held in November 2022 and sometime in early 2023.

JUUL Nicotine Addiction Concerns

JUUL pods were just introduced in 2015, and quickly became the most popular form of nicotine exposure among teens and young adults in the United States.

Marketing efforts by the manufacturer have been blamed for fueling the teen vaping epidemic, which has caused widespread disruption in schools, additional costs for local municipalities and left young adults addicted to high levels of nicotine in each JUUL pod, often leading to smoking and long-term health concerns.

The JUUL vape pens were designed to look like USB drives, allowing teens to hide their vaping habit from parents and school officials. The pods were also sold in a variety of candy-like flavors intended to appeal to prior non-smokers, and the manufacturer targeted teens through social media and other efforts that failed to disclose the high levels of nicotine, which may cause life-long addiction problems.

While the outcomes of these early bellwether trials will not be binding on other claims pending in the federal court system, they will be closely watched and may greatly influence any JUUL settlements offered by the manufacturer to avoid the need for hundreds of individual trial dates to be scheduled in different U.S. District Courts nationwide in the coming years.

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