Lipitor MDL Judge Outlines Discovery Plan for Preparing Bellwether Trials

The U.S. District Judge presiding over the Lipitor MDL (Multidistrict Litigation), has approved a discovery plan that is designed to prepare a small group of lawsuits for early trial dates starting late next summer.

There are currently about 500 product liability lawsuits filed throughout the federal courts system by women who claim they developed diabetes from side effects of Lipitor, alleging that Pfizer failed to provide adequate warnings for consumers and the medical community.

In February 2014, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established centralized proceedings for the Lipitor cases, consolidating all federal lawsuits before U.S. District Judge Richard 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.

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Following a status conference on May 16, Judge Gergel issued a case management order (PDF) detailing the discovery plan in the MDL, which will involve the selection of a small group of cases that will be prepared for early trial dates to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be similar to what will be offered throughout the litigation.

The plan calls for plaintiffs’ attorneys to submit a list of seven cases to be part discovery pool by June 20, and for Pfizer attorneys to submit a list of seven other cases by June 23. These “bellwether” cases will go through case-specific discovery over the remainder of this year.

The pool of 14 discovery cases will be reduced in December, with each side identifying three cases to be removed from consideration for the initial Lipitor trials in the MDL.

By December 15, Judge Gergel has indicated that he will randomly select one of the remaining cases to be scheduled the first trial date, which will be ready for trial to begin by July 1, 2015.

Depending on which side originally submitted the case selected for the first trial date, Judge Gergel indicates that he will then randomly select a case for the second trial date out of the cases submitted by the opposing side.

Lipitor Diabetes Lawsuits

In complex pharmaceutical litigation, where a large number of claims have been presented involving similar injuries caused by a prescription medication, it is common for a series of bellwether trials to be scheduled by the courts. While the outcomes are not binding on other cases, they may facilitate the negotiation of Lipitor settlement agreements that avoid the need for hundreds of trials to be scheduled throughout the country.

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, and it is widely expected that there will ultimately be several thousand cases brought by women nationwide. Plaintiffs claim that if information about the risk of diabetes had been adequately disclosed, they would have chosen not to use Lipitor or may have avoided developing diabetes by carefully monitoring blood glucose levels.

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.

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