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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all JUUL e-cigarette lawsuits has ordered parties to turn in a list of potential bellwether cases by Monday, which will be eligible to serve as early test trials to gauge how juries respond to evidence presented throughout the litigation.
JUUL Labs faces more than 4,500 product liability lawsuits filed by individuals, school districts and municipalities, each involving similar allegations that the e-cigarette manufacturer caused a new generation of teens and young adults to become addicted to nicotine by encouraging minors or prior non-smokers to use their vaping products.
JUUL pods were just introduced in 2015, and quickly became the most popular form of nicotine exposure among teens and young adults in the United States.
Marketing efforts by the manufacturer have been blamed for fueling the teen vaping epidemic, which has caused widespread disruption in schools, additional costs for local municipalities and left young adults addicted to high levels of nicotine in each JUUL pod, often leading to smoking and long-term health concerns.
Given common questions and fact and law raised in complaints filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, the JUUL 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. However, additional cases are also pending in various state courts.
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.
In an order (PDF) issued on June 8, Judge Orrick ordered both parties to each submit letter briefs listing four cases they believe are representative of the majority of claims filed against JUUL Labs. The letter briefs and case selections are due on Monday.
The parties exchanged lists among themselves on June 9, according to the order, and their final letter briefs will attempt to argue why the cases they have selected should be chosen as bellwether trials.
After the cases are submitted, the Court will then select four cases to serve as the initial bellwether pool, which will be scheduled for trial dates in the future.
JUUL Vaping Pod Concerns
The personal injury lawsuits have been filed on behalf of young adults who began vaping as teens, as well as parents the parents JUUL users who are still minors.
School districts and other government entities say JUUL devastated their communities, classrooms and budgets by addicting children in those schools and communities to a device which appeared designed to foster addiction in children.
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.
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.