Power Morcellator Cancer Litigation Centralization Arguments to be Heard on Oct. 1

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) is scheduled to hear oral arguments on October 1, over whether to centralize and consolidate a growing number of power morcellator lawsuits filed on behalf of women who had aggressive uterine cancer spread following a laparoscopic hysterectomy or myomectomy. 

Power morcellators are medical devices used in recent years to allow doctors to remove uterine fibroids or perform a complete hysterectomy through a minimally invasive procedure, where the tissue is cut up and removed through a small incision in the abdomen. However, the medical community has recently abandoned the devices after recognizing that they may pose a serious and potentially deadly risk for some women.

Recent estimates suggest that about one out of every 350 women undergoing surgery for symptomatic uterine fibroids may have unsuspected sarcoma contained within their uterus. For these women, power morcellation may disseminate the contained cancer throughout the body, rapidly upstaging the leiomyosarcoma, endometrial stromal sarcoma or other uterine cancers to a very advanced stage.

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Morcellation Lawsuits

Power morcellators used during a laparoscopic hysterectomy or uterine fibroid surgery may cause the spread of aggressive cancer.

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In June, a group of plaintiffs who have brought product liability lawsuits against the manufacturers of these devices filed a motion to centralize the power morcellator litigation before one judge in the federal court system, as part of an MDL or multidistrict litigation.

There are currently at least 21 complaints filed in 16 different U.S. District Courts, which all raise nearly identical allegations that the manufacturers designed and sold an unreasonably dangerous device while withholding warnings about the risk that morcellators may spread cancer.

Plaintiffs argue that centralizing the cases before one judge will reduce the risk of duplicative discovery into common issues in the cases, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges and promote judicial efficiency for witnesses, the parties and courts.

A number of different manufacturers have opposed centralization of the power morcellator cancer lawsuits, arguing that there are too few cases and too many different products involved to justify establishing an MDL.

Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon unit, which previously sold the majority of morcellators on the market, has also urged the panel to reject the possibility of establishing separate MDLs for each different manufacturer.

According to a hearing order (PDF) issued last week by the U.S. JPML, oral arguments will be heard on October 1, at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in New York City.

Power Morcellator Litigation

The litigation over power morcellators has emerged since the FDA issued warnings about the risks associated with the device in April 2014, where the agency urged doctors to avoid performing the popular, minimally invasive uterine surgery, which an estimated 50,000 women per year have undergone over the past decade.

While the FDA has allowed laparoscopic morcellators to remain on the market, with much stronger warnings about the potential cancer risks, many hospitals have announced that they will no longer perform hysterectomy or myomectomy procedures with morcellation, indicating that there is no way to justify the risk.

As more families learn about the link between morcellation and uterine cancers diagnosed in recent years, a growing number of product liability complaints are expected to be filed against the manufacturers in the coming months.

Plaintiffs seek to centralize cases brought in the federal court system before U.S. District Judge Kathryn H. Vratil in the District of Kansas, where the litigation would be managed in a manner similar to a power morcellator class action. However, each claim would remain an individual lawsuit, and may be remand back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed if settlements or other resolutions are not reached following pretrial proceedings and a series of bellwether trials.

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