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Motion Filed to Dissolve Ethicon Morcellator MDL Following Settlement of Most Cases

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Nearly all morcellator cancer lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon unit have been settled, according to a recent motion seeking to dissolve the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) established for cases brought nationwide by families of women diagnosed with leimyosarcoma or other forms of aggressive uterine cancer spread by a surgical tool used during laparoscopic hysterectomy or urterine fibroid removal procedures.

Power morcellators are medical devices that became increasingly popular over the last decade, allowing surgeons to perform a minimally invasive procedure to cut up and remove the uterus or fibroids through an incision in the abdomen.

While the procedures were designed to reduce the risk of complications, concerns emerged in recent years that side effects of laparoscopic morcellation may cause hidden sarcoma contained within the uterus to be spread throughout the body, rapidly upstaging the aggressive cancers and shortening life expectancy for women.

As a growing number of product liability lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide against Ethicon, which was the leading manufacturer of power morcellators, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established coordinated pretrial proceedings for the cases in October 2015.

Over the past nine months, the litigation has been centralized before U.S. District Judge Kathyryn H. Vratil in the District of Kansas to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the cases, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different courts and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the judicial system.

Following coordinated pre-trial discovery, the parties engaged in early evaluation of the merits of individual claims and a number of Ethicon morcellator settlements have been reached in recent months.

In a joint motion (PDF) filed on May 27, both plaintiffs and defendants indicate that out of 42 claims transferred into the MDL from U.S. District Courts nationwide, only four remain unresolved. Therefore, the parties indicate that there is no longer a need for coordinated MDL proceedings, calling for Judge Vratil to dissolve the MDL and remand any remaining cases back to the court where they were originally filed for individual handling.

Details of the settlements have not been released, and it is expected that Ethicon will continue to face additional claims as morcellator lawyers continue to review and file lawsuits for families who discover that the death of a wife or mother may have been caused by the use of the device during a laparoscopic hysterectomy or myomectomy. However, the parties indicate that case-specific discovery in the unresolved cases “can be carried out just as efficiently and expeditiously in the few remaining transferror courts.”

The next scheduled status conference in the Ethicon morcellator MDL is currently set for July 26.

Any decision to dissolve the Ethicon MDL will not impact future claims or lawsuits against other manufacturers of similar devices, including Karl Storz, Richard Wolf Medical Instruments, and Gyrus ACMI.

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