The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has decided to consolidate all Plavix lawsuits filed in the federal court system before one judge for coordinated handling during pretrial proceedings, as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
The order reverses an earlier position taken by the Panel in late 2011, which found that that the Plavix litigation did not require centralized proceedings.
Following oral arguments held late last month in response to a renewed request for consolidation, the U.S. JPML ordered (PDF) that a Plavix MDL will be established in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey and all cases pending throughout the federal court system will be transferred to U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson.
All of the complaints involve similar allegations against Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi-Aventis, makers of the blockbuster blood thinner, arguing that inadequate warnings were provided about the risk of potential Plavix side effects while the drug makers overstated the efficacy of the medication.
Plavix Litigation Over Failure to Warn
Plavix (clopidrogrel) has been used by millions of people in the United States and is commonly prescribed to prevent blood platelets from sticking together and forming clots, often given to patients at risk for a heart attack, stroke or other blood clotting. While Plavix has been promoted as being better at its job than aspirin, and costs many times more than aspirin, questions have been raised about the effectiveness of Plavix for many patients and whether it actually provides any benefit over aspirin.
According to allegations raised in Plavix lawsuits filed throughout the country, Plaintiffs claim that they suffered various injuries as a result of their unnecessary use of Plavix, such as gastrointestinal bleeding, severe ulcers and a rare blood disorder known as thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP).
Centralizing the Plavix litigation before one judge is designed to reduce duplicative discovery in a large number of cases, eliminate conflicting rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses, and the courts.
Second Plavix MDL Attempt
The manufacturers pushed for the consolidation, while some plaintiffs opposed it. This was the second attempt made by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi-Aventis to centralize Plavix injury lawsuits.
Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi-Aventis first asked the U.S. JPML to consolidate all federal Plavix cases in 2011. However, following oral arguments in December 2011, the Panel determined that centralizing the litigation would not help move the cases through the system faster and would not provide benefits for the parties involved.
At the time the Panel first rejected the request for a Plavix MDL, there were only 12 lawsuits over Plavix pending throughout the federal court system. However, the drug makers filed a second request to centralize the Plavix cases in October 2012, indicating that the litigation has more than doubled in size over the past year.
Plaintiffs claimed the companies were attempting to inflate the number of cases by removing several state cases to federal court, knowing that those cases would eventually be transferred back to state courts. Plaintiffs also fought the move to New Jersey, pointing out that a third of the cases had been filed in California, and accusing the companies of trying to move Plavix litigation to a court viewed as more favorable.
In the order issued this week by the U.S. JPML, it was noted that there has been a significant change in the circumstances surrounding the Plavix litigation since the first hearing. In addition to the increase in federal cases throughout the country, the Panel noted that the total number of state court Plavix lawsuits exceeds 2,000, which suggests that the number of related federal actions is likely to increase as well.
In addition, the Panel indicated that creating a Plavix MDL will facilitate coordination among all courts with cases, “simply because there will now be only one federal judge handling most or all federal Plavix litigation.”
The JPML approved the creation of the MDL, but declined to include the cases that the drug companies removed from state courts, saying they would await rulings on whether it was right for the drug makers to try to transfer those 12 cases, leaving 21 cases as part of the initial MDL. However, as Plavix lawyers continue to file new cases in U.S. District Courts throughout the country, they will be transferred to the District of New Jersey for consolidated proceedings.