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Appeals Court Affirms Dismissal of Lipitor Diabetes Litigation

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has affirmed the controversial decision of a federal judge to dismiss all Lipitor diabetes cases, finding that there was no reversible error in an opinion published this week. 

More than 3,000 women nationwide have filed Lipitor lawsuits against Pfizer in recent years, alleging that the drug maker failed to adequately warn that side effects of the popular cholesterol drug may increase the risk of diabetes.

Given similar questions of fact and law presented in the complaints, cases filed throughout the federal court system were consolidated as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL) before U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in the District of South Carolina, for coordinated discovery and to avoid conflicting rulings during pretrial proceedings.

In January 2017, Judge Gergel issued an order excluding certain expert witness testimony proposed by the plaintiffs, and granted a motion for summary judgment filed by the drug maker, who argued that the plaintiffs were unable to prove their case without the expert opinion.

Plaintiffs appealed the decision, and an opinion (PDF) was issued by a three-judge panel on June 12, upholding the lower court’s decision.

“These cases involve difficult questions of mathematics and science, wrapped in a complex form of mass litigation. The district court here had to make a number of decisions pursuant to both its ‘gatekeeper’ role imposed by Daubert, as well as its supervisory role as the transferee court in a large multidistrict litigation,” the panel determined. “The court discharged those duties meticulously and thoughtfully throughout the litigation, including performing careful review of the many expert reports, affording experts the opportunity to amend and revise those reports to ensure their opinions were fully considered, and, after ultimately excluding much of the plaintiffs’ expert testimony, allowing them to come forward with any additional evidence that could salvage what remained of their cases before rendering a final decision.”

It is unclear whether plaintiffs will attempt to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s decision, which would require the U.S. Supreme Court to agree to consider the issue.

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