JUUL Addiction Cases To Be Prepared For First Bellwether Trial in February 2022

With several thousand product liability and class action lawsuits over JUUL addiction problems pending throughout the federal court system, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation has confirmed the first “bellwether” case will go before a jury in February 2022.

Although the outcome of these early trials will not be binding on other claims in the litigation, the much anticipated trial dates will be closely watched by the parties, as they will provide a gauge for how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony about the marketing of the highly addictive e-cigarettes, which were promoted among teens and prior non-smokers.

JUUL pods were just introduced in 2015, and quickly became the most popular form of nicotine exposure among teens. Marketing efforts by the manufacturer have been blamed for fueling the teen vaping epidemic in the United States, which has resulted in a new generation of young adults now addicted to nicotine.

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Given common questions and fact and law raised in complaints filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, including addiction claims on behalf of teens and young adults, as well as lawsuits filed on behalf of school districts that now serve as the front line dealing with the effects of vaping in schools, the litigation is currently centralized before U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick III in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which is where JUUL Labs, Inc.’s San Francisco headquarters are located.

The JUUL vape pens were designed to look like USB drives, allowing teens to hide their vaping habit from parents and school officials. The pods were also sold in a variety of candy-like flavors intended to appeal to prior non-smokers, and the manufacturer targeted teens through social media and other efforts that failed to disclose the high levels of nicotine, which may cause life-long addiction problems.

To help the parties evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of their claims, Judge Orrick has established a “bellwether” program where groups of cases representative of fact patterns repeated throughout the litigation are being prepared for early trial dates.

On March 1, Judge Orrick issued an order (PDF) approving a joint proposal submitted last month by the parties, which sets the first bellwether trial to begin on February 22, 2022.

Shortly after Judge Orrick was appointed to preside over the JUUL litigation in late 2019, he told the parties that the Court intended to move the cases forward as quickly as possible.

“The allegations are very serious and raise significant public health concerns,” Judge Orrick noted in an order issued in November 2019. “My expectation is that all parties share this sense of urgency and will move forward together in a speedy, collaborative, and efficient manner to secure a just resolution of these cases.”

In the scheduling order issued last week, the Court approved “aggressive and compressed time frames for both parties”, calling for a close of all discovery by October 15, a final pretrial conference by late January 2021, allowing the start of the first jury trial the following month.


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