Zantac Lawsuits Should Be Centralized for Coordinated Litigation, Drug Makers Agree

With a growing number of Zantac lawsuits being filed on behalf of individuals exposed to cancer-causing chemicals produced by the popular heartburn drug, several major drug manufacturers indicate they agree the claims should be consolidated before one federal judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.

Over the past few months, dozens of product liability complaints have been filed against manufacturers of various forms of Zantac, alleging that high levels of Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) are released by ranitidine contained in the drug, which may increase the risk of bladder cancer, kidney cancer, colorectal cancer, stomach cancer and other forms of cancer along the digestive tract.

The litigation emerged after a citizen’s petition was filed with the FDA in September, which called for a Zantac recall to be issued, and described the active ingredient in the acid reducing drug as a human carcinogen.

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To avoid duplicative discovery into common issues in the Zantac litigation, prevent conflicting pretrial rulings and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the judicial system, a group of six plaintiffs filed a motion last month, which calls for all Zantac claims to be centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, as part of a federal MDL, or multi-district litigation.

In recent weeks, a number of responses have been filed by different plaintiffs proposing alternative venues, including the Southern District of Florida, Eastern District of Tennessee, Middle District of Tennessee, Northern District of Illinois, Northern District of California and other locations.

In a joint response (PDF) filed late last week by various manufacturers of Zantac, including Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Sanofi, the Defendants indicate they support consolidation of the litigation in New Jersey, or the nearby Southern District of New Jersey.

“All indications are that the Zantac litigation will be complex and hard-fought litigation,” the response notes. “No one disputes that these cases should be centralized into an MDL; the only real questions are where and before whom.”

The drug makers indicate there are currently at least 45 product liability lawsuits over Zantac pending throughout the federal court system, including 30 personal injury cases and 15 class action lawsuits. However, as Zantac injury lawyers continue to review and file claims for individuals nation wide, it is widely expected that several thousand claims may eventually be filed, given the widespread use of Zantac since the early 1980s.

According to the response, the District of New Jersey has “quickly become the center of gravity in these cases”, with the highest number of pending claims in the federal court system. In addition, the drug maker Sanofi, which currently owns the rights to distribute Zantac, has it’s headquarters located in New Jersey, and other drug makers who previously held the rights to distribute Zantac in the United States are headquartered nearby, with GlaxoSmithKline located in Philadelphia, Pfizer in New York and Boehringer Ingelheim in Connecticut.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) is expected to consider oral arguments on the best location for the Zantac cases during an upcoming hearing in Tampa, Florida on January 30, 2020.

If a Zantac MDL is established for the coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings, it is expected that the Judge assigned to the litigation will establish a “bellwether” program, where a small group of cases will be prepared for early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and expert testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the claims.

While the outcome of such early trials will not be binding in other cases, they may help the parties reach Zantac settlements, avoiding the need for potentially hundreds or thousands of individual trials in courts throughout the U.S. federal court system.

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