Lawyers in Lipitor Diabetes Lawsuits to Review Plans for Discovery, Trials

During a status conference scheduled for today, parties involved in the federal Lipitor diabetes lawsuits are expected to review with the Court proposaled plans for discovery and selecting a small group of cases that will be prepared for early trial dates.  

There are currently about 500 product liability lawsuits filed against Pfizer in U.S. District Courts throughout the country, which have been consolidated as part of an MDL, or Multidistrict Litigation, for coordinated handling during pretrial proceedings.

All of the complaints involve similar allegations that the drug maker failed to adequately warn women about the potential risk that side effects of Lipitor may cause them to develop type 2 diabetes.

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Given the common questions of law and fact raised in the complaints, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established the centralized proceedings in the federal courts system in February 2014, transferring all cases brought throughout the country to U.S. District Judge Richard K. Gergel in the District of South Carolina to reduce duplicative discovery, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

As part of the coordinated proceedings, Judge Gergel is scheduled to meet with lawyers representing plaintiffs and defendants today. According to a joint proposed case management order (PDF) submitted by the parties on May 9, it is expected that the Court will discuss the approval of master pleadings to facilitate the filing of additional cases, proposed discovery plans regarding the exchange of information between the parties and a process for selecting a small group of “bellwether” cases that will lead to a first Lipitor trial in the MDL.

Proposed Discovery and Trial Plan for Lipitor Litigation

During complex pharmaceutical litigation where a large number of claims involve similar allegations, it is common for a small group of “bellwether” lawsuits to be prepared for early trial dates to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be offered throughout the litigation. While the outcomes are not binding in other cases, they may facilitate Lipitor settlement discussions to avoid the need for hundreds of individual trials throughout the country.

According to the joint proposed order submitted by the parties, plaintiffs’ attorneys are proposing that each side select seven Lipitor cases for a Discovery Pool, which will go through case-specific discovery. The plaintiffs’ list would be due by June 20 and the Pfizer list would be due by June 23. Following discovery, each side would be able to strike up to three cases from the pool in either December 2014 or January 2015.

Pfizer has indicated that the first bellwether trial should be selected by December 15, but the plaintiffs’ attorneys want that deadline to be January 12, 2015, with the first case ready to go to trial on July 1.

Lipitor Diabetes Risk

Each of the complaints involved in the MDL raises similar allegations that Pfizer knew or should have known about the potential link between Lipitor and diabetes, yet withheld information from consumers and the medical community while turning the medication into one of the most widely used brand name drugs in the United States.

Lipitor (atorvastatin) is a cholesterol drug that is one of the most widely used brand-name medications in the United States. It is part of a class of medications known as statins, and has been used by millions of Americans.

Statins are among the best-selling drugs in the United States, with $14.5 billion in combined sales in 2008. The medications use the liver to block the body’s creation of cholesterol, which is a key contributor to coronary artery disease. However, a number of studies have linked the drugs to an increased risk of potentially serious injuries, including muscle damage, kidney problems, and diabetes.

In February 2012, the FDA required new diabetes warnings for Lipitor and other similar statins, informing users for the first time that they may face an increased risk of changes to 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.

The lawsuits allege that Lipitor provides minimal, if any, benefits for most women, and that plaintiffs could have avoided the risk of diabetes by choosing not to take the cholesterol drug or by diligently monitoring their blood glucose levels during treatment.

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