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With more than 1,100 JUUL lawsuits pending in the federal court system, each involving allegations that the e-cigarette manufacturer caused widespread teen nicotine addiction problems by aggressively marketing the device to minors and prior non-smokers, parties involved in the litigation have identified a group of 12 injury claims for a “bellwether” discovery pool.
JUUL Labs has been accused of fueling the teen vaping epidemic which has emerged in the United States over the past few years, with a new generation of young adults now addicted to nicotine released by the devices. The company has been accused of intentionally targeting teens through social media marketing and other efforts which promoted the devices as safe.
The vape pens were sold in a variety of candy-like flavors intended to appeal to prior non-smokers, and the devices were designed to look like USB drives, allowing teens to hide their vaping habit from parents and school officials.
The litigation includes addiction injury claims brought on behalf of individuals nationwide, as well as a number of lawsuits filed on behalf of school districts, which have had to devote additional resources to prevent JUULing on campus and educate teens about the long-term health consequences of nicotine addiction.
Given similar questions of fact and law presented in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, the litigation has been centralized for discovery and pretrial proceedings 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.
To help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout the litigation, Judge Orrick has previously indicated that a series of bellwether trials will be held involving claims that are representative of fact patterns presented in other cases.
On December 15, the parties issued a joint notice (PDF) announcing the 12 cases which have been randomly selected to make up the bellwether trial pool.
In late August, Judge Orrick indicated the first bellwether trials will begin in February 2022, following a case-specific discovery process and future challenges to the admissibility of expert witness testimony.
While the outcomes of these early bellwether trials will not be binding on other claims pending in the federal court system, they will be closely watched and may greatly influence any JUUL settlements offered by the manufacturer to avoid the need for hundreds of individual trial dates in the coming years.