As discovery continues in the federal Lipitor litigation involving lawsuits brought by women who allege the popular cholesterol drug caused them to develop type II diabetes, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the cases has indicated that the first bellwether trial will begin in October 2015.
There are currently more than 1,250 product liability lawsuits pending against Pfizer in the federal court system, which all involve similar allegations that side effects of Lipitor caused diabetes for women taking the medication as a preventative measure to reduce their cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
The cases are consolidated for pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL, or Multidistrict Litigation, which is centralized before U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in the District of South Carolina to reduce duplicative discovery among the cases, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.
According to minutes posted to the court’s docket following a status conference on Friday, a Lipitor diabetes case will go before a federal jury in October 2015, serving as a “bellwether” trial to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.
Lipitor Bellwether Trials
As part of the coordinated litigation before Judge Gergel, a small number of lawsuits have been identified as bellwether cases, going through case-specific discovery in preparation for this first trial date. A prior case management order indicated that the Lipitor bellwether cases must be trial-ready by July 2015.
The current pool of 12 “initial discovery” cases are expected to be reduced to a group of six in December, with each side identifying three cases that will be eligible for the first trial. Judge Gergel has indicated that he will then randomly select one of the remaining cases later this year to go forward for the first trial, which is now expected to begin in October 2015.
In a new case management order (PDF) issued on September 22, Judge Gergel addressed several on-going discovery issues in the litigation, imposing limitations on the ability of the parties to meet independently with plaintiffs’ treating physicians.
Defense counsel has been ordered not to meet “ex parte” with treating or prescribing healthcare providers, unless they have permission of plaintiffs’ counsel. Plaintiff’s counsel may meet independently with the physicians, but must disclose if certain records or documents are discussed with the treaters.
Although the outcome of bellwether trials are not binding on other lawsuits, the cases are being closely monitored by attorneys involved in the litigation, as they may influence any eventual Lipitor settlement negotiations.