Despite a mounting number of Lipitor cases brought by women throughout the country who claim they are now diabetic after using the blockbuster cholesterol drug, Pfizer is once-again asking a panel of federal judges to deny a request for centralization of the litigation.
Last month, a second request was filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), asking that a federal Lipitor MDL be established for all product liability lawsuits filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country involving allegations that side effects of Lipitor caused women to develop diabetes.
Plaintiffs are requesting that cases be centralized to reduce duplicative discovery, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.
In a response (PDF) filed on November 1, Pfizer opposed the request, indicating that even though there are already more than 100 lawsuits filed involving nearly identical allegations, the Lipitor litigation does not justify centralization.
The U.S. JPML previously rejected a prior request to centralize all Lipitor lawsuits for diabetics in August 2013. At that time, there were only about two dozen cases pending nationwide, and the Panel indicated that there were an insufficient number of cases to justify formal consolidated proceedings.
Since that time, the number of Lipitor cases has increased dramatically, with more than 114 individual claims now pending in at least 20 different federal district courts. In addition, as Lipitor lawyers continue to review claims for diabetic women, some estimates have suggested that there could eventually be thousands of cases brought against Pfizer.
According to the response filed by Pfizer, the MDL process would delay the litigation. The drug maker indicates that discovery and other pretrial proceedings are already underway in a number of cases, with early Lipitor trial dates set for late 2013 and early 2015 in at least seven different jurisdictions.
“These cases are thus poised for prompt merits decisions, including on core science issues, which will shape the litigation nationwide and conserve significant party and judicial resources,” wrote Pfizer in the response. “The creation of an MDL could substantially delay these merit resolutions.”
Pfizer also suggested that given the widespread use of Lipitor, which has been prescribed to more than 29 million people over 16 years, there remains a relatively small number of cases filed. The drug maker also suggests that the creation of an MDL may “artificially inflate” the number of cases filed.
Plaintiffs note that given the widespread Lipitor diabetes litigation, absent consolidated management, there will be inconsistent pre-trial discovery and rulings from different judges.
Lipitor Diabetic Lawsuit Allegations
Lipitor (atorvastatin) is one of the most widely used brand-name medications, prescribed to help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. However, women allege that Pfizer failed to adequately warn about the risks associated with taking Lipitor, including the impact on blood sugar levels and the risk of becoming a diabetic, which carries substantial health problems.
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 knew or should have known about the possible risk of diabetes long before these warnings were issued, with some studies connecting statins to diabetes date as far back as 2004.
In nearly all of the lawsuits filed, plaintiffs maintain that if they had been provided proper warnings about the Lipitor risks, they could have avoided diabetes by choosing not to take the cholesterol drug or by diligently monitoring their blood glucose levels during treatment.
In complex pharmaceutical litigation where a large number of cases are filed throughout the federal court system involving similar allegations, it is common for the U.S. JPML to centralize the proceedings before one judge for coordinated discovery and early “bellwether” trials, which are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout a number of cases.
Coordinated management of the litigation may help promote Lipitor settlement agreements, resolving hundreds of nearly identical cases without the need for individual trials throughout the country.