A status conference was held Friday before U.S. District Judge John R. Tunheim, who is overseeing the federal Levaquin lawsuits pending in Minnesota. In documents filed with the Court before the conference, the attorneys for the parties disagreed about the process the court should adopt for selecting the first cases for trial.
Levaquin is an antibiotic sold by Johnson & Johnson for treatment of upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, prostatis and other bacterial infections. It is part of a class of antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones, which have been associated with tendon toxicity and an increased risk of tendon ruptures, most frequently involving the Achilles tendon.
All Levaquin tendon rupture lawsuits filed in federal court have been consolidated and centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota before Judge Tunheim for pre-trial litigation as part of a procedure known as an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
Under the federal procedure, the cases are all handled together to during discovery and pretrial litigation to efficiently move the mass tort cases through the court system. The MDL rules normally require that cases be returned to the original jurisdiction where they were filed for trial.
On October 15, 2008, lawyers representing plaintiffs with a Levaquin lawsuit in the MDL filed a Proposed Discovery and Trial Plan which asked the court to set initial trial dates and case specific discovery in cases filed directly in the District of Minnesota. They indicated that this would allow the Court overseeing the MDL to preside over the trials as well, ensuring the cases would not be transferred to another forum for trial.
In pharmaceutical litigation involving claims for drug side effects, the first trials scheduled are considered “bellwether” cases, which are selected to be representative of the issues which will be presented throughout the litigation, and to help establish potential values for various groups of similar cases.
On October 16, 2008, the defendants, Johnson & Johnson, Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals Research & Development and their subsidiary Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, filed a response to the plaintiffs’ proposed Levaquin lawsuit trial plan, indicating that it was premature and inappropriate to designate the cases at this time.
They indicated that parties have not had an opportunity to gather sufficient information to assess which cases would be most representative of the issues presented in the Levaquin tendon rupture litigation.
The cases allege that Johnson & Johnson failed to adequately warn users about the potentially debilitating side effects of Levaquin. The lawsuits selected for the first trials trial will be used to gauge various issues in the litigation, such as the impact of other risk factors for tendon ruptures, the use of Levaquin together with corticosteriods, the increased risk among those over 60 and the sufficiency of the different variations of the Levaquin warning label.
The defendants indicated that the court should allow additional case-specific discovery to ensure a proper and informed selection of cases which “will evoke the most important issues” for trial.