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The New Jersey Supreme Court has been asked to consolidate all Elmiron lawsuits before one state judge, for coordinated management of claims alleging the bladder pain drug caused users to suffer permanent vision loss and retinal damage.
Johnson & Johnson and Janssen have marketed Elmiron (pentosan polysulfate sodium or PPS) as a safe and effective treatment for interstitial cystitis for decades, without providing any warnings about the vision impairment or importance of monitoring for retina changes until last year, when updated FDA label warnings were added about vision risks for the first time.
Although independent studies and case reports have described cases of irreversible Elmiron retinal maculopathy for years, many doctors remained unaware of the connection until recently, leading many users to continue taking the medication for years after they developed signs or symptoms of vision side effects, further worsening the permanent damage to the retina.
Over the past year, there have been a growing number of product liability complaints involving Elmiron vision loss brought in both federal courts and state courts in New Jersey, where the drug makers’ U.S. headquarters are based. However, as lawyers continue to review and file claims in the coming months, it is ultimately expected that the litigation will include several thousand cases.
On September 7, Glenn A. Grant, Acting Administrative Director for New Jersey state courts, issued a Notice to the Bar (PDF) announcing that the New Jersey Supreme Court has received an application from plaintiffs who have filed cases in various counties throughout the state, seeking to establish a multicounty litigation (MCL) and centralize all current and future claims before one New Jersey judge.
Centralization of the claims is intended to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the cases, avoid conflicting pretrial schedules from different judges and serve the convenience of the common parties, witnesses and the judicial system.
If consolidated before one judge, the New Jersey cases would work like a federal multidistrict litigation, but at the state-court level only. As part of the coordinated management of the litigation in New Jersey, the judge would preside over discovery into general issues that apply to all claims, and likely establish a “bellwether” process where a small group of cases are prepared for early trial dates, to help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout other claims.
In the federal court system, the Elmiron litigation has been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Brian R. Martinotti in the District of New Jersey, where the parties are expected to prepare a group of cases for early trials beginning in 2023.
While the outcome of these bellwether trials will not have any binding effect on other plaintiffs, they are expected to influence the amount of any Elmiron settlements for vision impairment Johnson & Johnson may later offer to avoid the need for each individual claims to be scheduled for trial.