Discovery in Lipitor Diabetes Cases Continues to Progress
As a small group of Lipitor diabetes lawsuits continue to be prepared for early trial dates set to begin later this year, parties involved in the cases report that progress is being made with regard to discovery in the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL).
There are currently more than 2,000 product liability cases pending against Pfizer throughout the United States, which all involve similar allegations that women developed diabetes from side effects of Lipitor, the popular and widely used cholesterol drug.
All of the complaints involve similar claims that Pfizer failed to adequately warn about the link between Lipitor and diabetes, alleging that the drug maker placed their desire for profits before consumer safety by withholding information about the importance of monitoring for blood glucose changes during use of the blockbuster cholesterol drug.
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In the federal court system, about 1,600 cases filed in various U.S. District Courts nationwide have been centralized before U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in the District of South Carolina as part of an MDL, with the remaining cases pending in various state courts nationwide.
In advance of a status conference scheduled before Judge Gergel on January 22, the parties submitted a Joint Status Report (PDF) last week, which outlines progress being made with regard to discovery, including production of documents by Pfizer, exchange of Plaintiffs’ fact sheets, as well as select depositions.
Lipitor Diabetes Risk
Lipitor (atorvastatin) is one of the most widely used brand-name drugs in the United States, which has been aggressively marketed to reduce the risk of heart disease associated with high cholesterol.
Many of the women involved in the Lipitor litigation indicate that they were generally healthy before being prescribed the widely used cholesterol drug, and that they only agreed to take the medication as a precautionary measure. Plaintiffs maintain that if they had been provided adequate warnings about the diabetes risk, they never would have agreed to take Lipitor or may have avoided the disease by closely monitoring their blood glucose levels.
In February 2012, the FDA required Pfizer and the makers of other statin-based cholesterol drugs to provide updated warnings about the impact the medications may have on blood glucose levels. However, plaintiffs allege that Pfizer was aware of the possible risk of diabetes long before these warnings were issued, with some studies connecting statins to diabetes date as far back as 2004.
Lipitor Bellwether Trials
As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings in the federal Lipitor MDL, Judge Gergel has established a “bellwether” process, where a small group of cases are being prepared for early trial dates, which are set to begin in October 2015.
Among the cases in this Discovery Pool, the parties indicate in the latest status report that they are working cooperatively to schedule and conduct depositions of Plaintiffs’ treating physicians and other non-party fact witnesses in the cases, which are expected to be completed this month.
Plaintiffs have also taken depositions of several current and former Pfizer employees, with additional depositions scheduled over the next month. While plaintiffs have sought to depose Pfizer CEO, Ian Read, the drug maker has objected and this issue is likely to be decided by Judge Gergel in the coming months.
A prior case management order indicates that the Lipitor diabetes cases that are part of the bellwether program will be “trial ready” by July 2015, with the first lawsuits expected to go before a jury in October.
While the outcomes of these early trial dates are not binding on other Lipitor cases, they are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation. The process may facilitate a potential Lipitor settlement agreement, which will avoid the need for hundreds of individual trials to be scheduled.
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