U.S. District Judge Inge Prytz Johnson, who is presiding over the federal Chantix litigation, has appointed 17 attorneys to serve in leadership roles in the multidistrict litigation (MDL). The Chantix attorneys will perform actions during pretrial proceedings that will benefit all plaintiffs who have filed a Chantix lawsuit in federal courts throughout the United States.
In October 2009, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all federal lawsuits over Chantix before Judge Johnson in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. The cases include allegations that Pfizer failed to adequately research their medication or adequately warn doctors and patients about the potential psychological Chantix effects, which can include suicide, suicidal thoughts, depression and other abnormal behavior.
As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings, Judge Johnson issued an order on February 2 appointing Ernest Cory to serve as Plaintiffs’ Lead Counsel and Joe Whatley Jr. to serve as Plaintiffs’ Liason Counsel. As Lead Counsel, Cory will act as a spokesperson for all plaintiffs at pretrial hearings and in response to inquiries from the court. He wil also submit and argue motions before the court, examine witnesses at hearings and negotiate stipulations and potential Chantix settlement agreements with the defendants, which would apply to all cases. As Liason Counsel, Whatley will receive and distribute orders from the Court and documents from opposing counsel, and assist in the coordination of activities between both parties.
Together with Cory, four other lawyers were appointed to serve on the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee and nine attorneys were appointed to serve on the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee together with Whatley. Jayne Conroy and David Ratner were also appointed to serve as Plaintiffs’ State/Federal Liason Counsel.
Chantix (varenicline) was approved by the FDA in 2006 as a prescription medication to help people quit smoking. The drug works by reducing the positive feelings that come from cigarettes, blocking the receptors in the brain commonly stimulated by nicotine. However, the drug has been linked to increased risks of suicide and suicide attempts, aggressive behavioral changes and other psychiatric side effects, which have resulted in fatal or catastrophic injuries for many users.
The FDA has received hundreds of adverse event reports involving Chantix problems, leading to a “black box” warning being added to the medication in June 2009 to warn consumers and the medical community about the potential psychological side effects. Pfizer has also been required to conduct clinical trials providing more data on how often neuropsychiatric symptoms with Chantix occur and what conditions cause them.
The first status conference in the MDL has been set for February 23, when attorneys from both sides will meet and develop a discovery plan and discuss coordination with courts dealing with Chantix lawsuits at the state level.
When the Chantix MDL was formed in October, 34 cases were consolidated before Judge Johnson. Since that time, Chantix suicide lawsuits have continued to mount. According to documents filed early last month, an additional 27 complaints have been transferred to the MDL. In addition, Chantix attorneys are continuing to review potential cases, and it is expected that hundreds of additional complaints over Chantix will be filed in the future.