Centralization for Heartburn Drug Kidney Damage Lawsuits Sought Again with JPML

For the second time this year, a panel of federal judges is being asked to consolidate all federal lawsuits involving allegations that users suffered severe kidney damage from popular heartburn drugs, such as Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, Dexilant and Protonix.

In February, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) rejected a request filed by plaintiffs to transfer cases filed throughout the federal court system to one judge for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

At that time, only about 15 cases were pending nationwide, and each of the drug makers opposed centralized management. As a result, the U.S. JPML determined that since there were a limited number of cases and a large number of competing pharmaceutical companies involved in the lawsuits, centralization was not appropriate.

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Over the past few months, a rapidly growing number of Nexium lawsuits, Prilosec lawsuits, Prevacid lawsuits, Protonix lawsuits and Dexilant lawsuits have been filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide.

This week, a group of 24 plaintiffs filed another motion to transfer (PDF), indicating that there are now at least 172 cases pending in 30 different federal courts, located in 21 states. In addition, heartburn drug lawyers continue to investigate hundreds of claims on behalf of individuals nationwide, suggesting that the size of the litigation will continue to grow.

Significantly, the motion indicates that it is the plaintiffs’ understanding that the drug makers AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Wyeth each now support the formation of an MDL, and Proctor & Gamble does not oppose the motion.

In complex product liability litigation, where a large number of cases are filed on behalf of individuals who suffered the same or similar injuries due to the related products, it is common for the U.S. JPML to transfer the litigation to one judge to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and to serve the convenience of witnesses, parties and the judicial system.

Heartburn Drug Kidney Lawsuits

Each of the complaints involved in the litigation raise similar questions of fact and law, alleging that the drug makers failed to adequately research the potential side effects associated with proton pump inhibitors (PPI) and withheld important safety information from consumers and the medical community.

Proton pump inhibitors include some of the most widely recognized brand name drugs on the market in the U.S., with millions of Americans regularly taking Nexium, Prilosec, Protonix or other drugs for treatment of heartburn and acid reflux.

As a result of the drug makers’ failure to adequately warn about the risk of severe kidney damage from the heartburn drugs, plaintiffs indicate that many doctors continue patients on the medications for long periods of time, with little or no effort to reduce the need for the drugs.

Although the medications have been on the market for nearly two decades, the first warnings about any kidney issues with PPIs were added to the drug labels in December 2014, indicating that there may be a risk of acute interstitial nephritis (AIN) risk from Nexium, Prilosec and other proton pump inhibitors. This condition involves inflammation of the kidneys. However, plaintiffs maintain that the warnings do not go far enough to raise awareness about the serious risks associated with these medications.

In April 2015, a study published in the medical journal CMAJ Open found that Nexium, Prilosec, and other PPIs cause a 3 times higher risk of acute interstitial nephritis, but were also associated with a 2.5 times higher risk of acute kidney injury, which involves an abrupt loss of kidney function.

In January 2016, a study published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine built on these findings, examining data on more than 10,000 participants over a period of more than 10 years, finding that the drugs were also associated with a higher incidence of chronic kidney disease.

In April 2016, researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs found that users of Nexium, Prilosec or other PPIs may be 96% more likely to develop kidney failure and 28% more likely to develop chronic kidney disease after five years of use.

The U.S. JPML is likely to consider oral arguments on the motion to centralize all heartburn drug kidney damage lawsuits during an upcoming hearing set for July 27, 2017, in Los Angeles, California.

Plaintiffs have requested that the litigation be transferred to the District of New Jersey, where at least 61 of the 172 cases were filed. If an MDL is established, following coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings, if the parties fail to reach a settlement or other resolution for the cases, each claim may later be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a separate trial date.

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