Future of Abilify Gambling Trials to be Discussed During Status Conference

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Abilify lawsuits is set to meet with the parties today for a status conference, at which time the Court is expected to discuss the preparation of additional bellwether trials involving cases brought by individuals who developed gambling addictions following use of the atypical antipsychotic. 

Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals currently face more than 400 product liability lawsuits over compulsive behavior problems with Abilify, each raising similar allegations that the drug makers failed to adequately warn users that they may experience uncontrollable urges to gamble or engage in other destructive activities.

Plaintiffs indicate that the drug makers knew or should have known about the link between Abilify and gambling propensity, yet withheld information from consumers and the medical community that could have allowed users to monitor for signs that may emerge shortly after starting use of the drug or increasing the dose. If proper warnings had been provided, plaintiffs claim that they may have avoided substantial financial losses, which have had a devastating impact on their financial stability.

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Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, the cases have been centralized before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida, as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation, which is designed to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and service the convenience of witnesses, parties and the judicial system.

Judge Rodgers previously established an aggressive bellwether program, where a small group of cases are being fast tracked for early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain issues and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation. However, the Court will first consider whether plaintiffs have sufficient evidence to establish a general causation link between Abilify and impulsive or compulsive behavior.

In a joint agenda (PDF) issued on December 7, parties detailed various items that they expect to discuss at a case management conference today, including issues with discovery, as plaintiffs indicate that defendants have fallen behind on document production.

It is also expected that Judge Rodgers will discuss with the parties whether additional Abilify cases should be added to the bellwether trial pool, and whether the court should hold a multi-plaintiff trial.

In addition, Judge Rodgers issued an order (PDF) on December 7 indicating that she will grant a motion to compel the production of Plaintiffs’ online gambling records, which was requested in a motion by defendants last month. However, the judge noted that aspects of the request that called for a unilateral examination of plaintiffs’ electronic devices are denied.

The judge said that forensic examinations can be conducted on at least two plaintiffs’ electronic devices, who have already been shown to have participated in online gambling. However, defendants are prohibited from providing confidential information found through the examination, and the data must be destroyed when the case is concluded.

At the same time Abilify cases are moving forward in the federal MDL, a parallel state court litigation has been established in New Jersey, where Superior Court Judge James De Luca is presiding over all cases filed in the state, and established a bellwether track where the first trials could begin by the end of 2018.

While the outcome of early trial dates in the MDL or other state court litigation will not be binding on other claims in the litigation, they will be closely watched by parties involved in the lawsuits, as they may influence eventual Abilify settlement negotiations to avoid the need for hundreds of individual trial dates in courts nationwide.


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