Form for Exchange of Information About Lipitor Diabetes Claims Approved
As a growing number of Lipitor lawsuits continue to be filed throughout the country, the federal litigation is moving forward with discovery, as the parties have agreed on forms to help with the exchange of information about the hundreds of diabetes claims brought by women who used the popular cholesterol drug.
In February 2014, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established centralized proceedings in the federal court system for all product liability lawsuits filed by women who allege that Pfizer failed to provide adequate warnings about the potential Lipitor diabetes risk, claiming that they never would have taken the medication if accurate and complete warnings had been provided.
The federal Lipitor litigation has been centralized before U.S. District Judge Richard K. Gergel in the District of South Carolina as part of an MDL (multidistrict litigation) to reduce duplicative discovery in a large number of claims, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.
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At the time the Lipitor MDL was established, there were only about 56 cases pending throughout the federal court system. According to an updated case list (PDF) released last month by the U.S. JPML, that number had already grown to at least 464 claims by April 15. However, a Conditional Transfer Order (PDF) issued on May 9 indicates that there are now well over 600 cases that have been transferred to the District of South Carolina for coordinated handling by Judge Gergel.
Discovery Process Begins
As the number of Lipitor diabetes claims continue to grow, Judge Gergel and the lawyers involved in the litigation are working to establish a discovery plan and process for selecting a small group of lawsuits that will be prepared for early trial dates, known as “bellwether” claims since the outcomes are designed to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.
According to a case management order (PDF) issued by Judge Gergel on May 2, the parties have agreed on the use of a form Plaintiffs’ Fact Sheet (PFS), which is designed to facilitate the exchange of specific information about each of the cases.
Each plaintiff with a Lipitor claim pending in the MDL as of May 9 has been directed to provide Pfizer with a completed fact sheet, together with authorizations, medical records and other required documents, by June 2. For all cases filed starting this week, the PFS must be provided within 30 days of the case being transferred into the MDL.
The Plaintiff’s Fact Sheet provides specific information for Pfizer prior to formal, case-specific discovery and depositions in each claim. In addition to personal information about the plaintiff and their alleged injuries, the form requires disclosure of employment history, any criminal proceedings, prior lawsuits and details about their health histories.
Once Pfizer has been provided with details concerning individual claims, it is expected that Judge Gergel will establish a process for selecting a small group of Lipitor claims to be prepared for early trial dates. While the outcomes of these cases will not be binding on other claims, the trials may facilitate Lipitor settlement negotiations to resolve the cases without the need for hundreds of individual trials being scheduled throughout the country.
It is expected that the first Lipitor bellwether claims may be ready for trial in the MDL by July 2015.
Lipitor Diabetes Concerns
Each of the complaints involved in the MDL raises similar allegations that Pfizer knew or should have known about the potential link between Lipitor and diabetes, yet withheld information from consumers and the medical community while turning the medication into one of the most widely used brand name drugs in the United States.
Lipitor (atorvastatin) is a cholesterol drug that is one of the most widely used brand-name medications in the United States. It is part of a class of medications known as statins, and has been used by millions of Americans.
Statins are among the best-selling drugs in the United States, with $14.5 billion in combined sales in 2008. The medications use the liver to block the body’s creation of cholesterol, which is a key contributor to coronary artery disease. However, a number of studies have linked the drugs to an increased risk of potentially serious injuries, including muscle damage, kidney problems, and diabetes.
In February 2012, the FDA required new diabetes warnings for Lipitor and other similar statins, informing users for the first time that they may face an increased risk of changes to blood glucose levels. However, plaintiffs allege that Pfizer was aware of the possible risk of diabetes long before these warnings were issued, with some studies connecting statins to diabetes date as far back as 2004.
The lawsuits allege that Lipitor provides minimal, if any, benefits for most women, and that plaintiffs could have avoided the risk of diabetes by choosing not to take the cholesterol drug or by diligently monitoring their blood glucose levels during treatment.
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