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JUUL Bellwether Trials Will Be Held Before MDL Judge in Northern District of California

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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal JUUL nicotine addiction lawsuits indicates the first bellwether trials will involve cases that can be tried in his Northern District of California courtroom, indicating the Court is willing to let plaintiffs amend their filings to provide necessary jurisdiction, regardless of where the case originated, so there is a deeper pool of eligible cases for early test trials.

There are currently more than 1,100 product liability and class action complaints filed against JUUL Labs throughout the federal court system, each involving claims teens and young adults have been left with nicotine addiction problems from JUUL vaping pods, which have been aggressively marketed by the manufacturer in recent years toward minors and prior non-smokers.

According to allegations raised in the litigation, false and misleading advertisements for JUUL created a new generation of Americans addicted to nicotine. In addition to the individual addiction claims, a number of class action lawsuits have also been filed on behalf of school districts and other entities that have incurred damages which resulted from the nationwide vaping epidemic that has plagued the U.S. in recent years.

JUUL Labs has been accused of fueling the teen e-cigarette epidemic in the United States, resulting in new generation now addicted to nicotine.

Given similar questions of fact and law presented in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, 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.

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.

In a court order (PDF) issued on November 9, Judge Orrick announced he wants the first bellwether trials held in his court in the Northern District of California. Since there are concerns that the manufacturer will not agree to waive jurisdictional requirements that cases should be remanded back to the original U.S. District Court where it was filed if a settlement is not reached during the MDL proceedings, Judge Orrick indicates plaintiffs will be provided permission to amend their original complaints to change the “designated forum” where the case would have been originally filed to the home district of the manufacturer, rather than the district where the plaintiff resides.

“By taking plaintiffs’ suggestion and granting them leave to amend to change their ‘designated forum’ under CMO No. 3 to designate the Northern District of California, I can have a sufficient bellwether pool of cases to try here,” Judge Orrick wrote. “That will create real utility for settlement and general management of these MDL proceedings.”

The order is consistent with a proposal recently filed by from plaintiffs, to which defendants have objected. The manufacturer has suggested the move will allow plaintiffs to “cherry pick” which cases are eligible for the bellwether pool. However, Judge Orrick said he disagreed with that position, saying their interests are adequately protected by th selection process established for the bellwether pool.

In addition, Judge Orrick also agreed with plaintiffs that individuals who are part of class action lawsuits can also pursue a separate individual lawsuit at the same time.

“I will not force a plaintiff to choose whether to potentially waive one set or the other of their claims,” he wrote. “Plaintiffs have already excluded personal injury damages from the scope of the class action track, limiting the monetary relief they seek in the (class action complaint) to economic loss.”

In late August, Judge Orrick indicated the first bellwether trials will begin in February 2022, following a case-specific discovery process on the small group of representative cases selected by the parties and the Court.

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.

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