The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has ordered that all federal Chantix lawsuits will be consolidated and centralized for pretrial litigation in the Northern District of Alabama.
According to an order issued October 1, 2009, there are currently 37 product liability suits over Chantix pending in 16 different federal districts throughout the United States. Following a hearing last month, the panel determined that all of the cases involve sufficiently similar questions of fact to justify consolidation into an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
The Chantix litigation involves allegations that Pfizer failed to adequately warn about the risk of Chantix side effects, including a risk of suicide, suicidal thoughts, depression, seizures, memory loss and other mental or physical problems.
All 37 of the Chantix cases will be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, where they will be assigned to U.S. District Judge Inge P. Johnson for coordinated pretrial litigation to avoid duplicative discovery, prevent inconsistent rulings on discovery and other issues and conserve the resources of the parties, lawyers and the court.
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.
Individuals who have filed a Chantix lawsuit against Pfizer allege that the drug maker failed to adequately test the drug and attempted to minimize the risk.
The judicial panel rejected efforts by Pfizer to have the lawsuits centralized in New York, saying that a clear majority of plaintiffs (25) favored centralizing the cases in Alabama, and Judge Johnson was already overseeing three of the cases. The panel also noted that none of the 16 districts where a Chantix suit was pending worked as a clear geographic focal point for the cases.
Now that the MDL has been formed, it is expected that Chantix lawyers may file hundreds of new cases in the coming months, which will also be transferred to Judge Johnson in the Northern District of Alabama for coordinated handling. Following pretrial proceedings, if the cases do not settle or otherwise resolve, the individual lawsuits may be returned back to the districts where they were filed for trials.