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As a growing number of power morcellator cancer lawsuits continue to be filed on behalf of women nationwide, alleging that the device used during laparoscopic hysterectomy and myomectomy procedures caused the spread of leiomyosarcoma or other uterine cancers, a request has been filed to centralize the litigation before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.
A group of plaintiffs filed a motion to transfer (PDF) with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) last week, indicating that cases filed throughout the federal court system should be consolidated as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the witnesses, parties and courts.
There are currently at least 22 complaints pending in 16 different U.S. District Courts against manufacturers of power morcellators, which all raise nearly identical allegations that inadequate warnings were provide about the risk that the devices may spread undiagnosed cancer cells following uterine fibroid surgery.
Power morcellators are medical tools used during minimally invasive laparoscopic hysterectomy and myomectomy procedures, allowing the surgeon to cut up the uterus or uterine fibroids and remove the tissue through a small incision in the abdomen. While these procedures are designed to reduce recovery time and the risk of infections, morcellators have largely been abandoned over the past year, due to the risk that they may cause the spread of aggressive cancers that were previously contained or hidden within the uterus.
In April 2014, the FDA issued a warning about the potential power morcellation cancer risk, indicating that an estimated one out of every 350 women undergoing surgery for symptomatic uterine fibroids may actually have unsuspected sarcoma.
While the cancer can often be safely removed and treated when it is contained within the uterus, use of a power morcellator may send cancerous cells throughout the abdomen, causing the rapid dissemination of the cancer to other areas of the body. This may greatly reduce the likelihood of long-term survival and the woman’s overall quality of life.
“Evidence linking the dissemination and upstaging of occult cancer or the development of recurrent parasitic fibroid and similar injury risks were not disclosed to or shared with the public, including Plaintiffs, by any Defendant,” the brief notes. “Instead, Defendants’ strategy beginning in the early 1990’s has been to aggressively market Power Morcellators by falsely misleading potential users about the products and by failing to protect users from serious dangers which Defendants knew or should have known could result from the use of these products.”
Plaintiffs seek to centralize product liability lawsuits filed against various different manufacturers before U.S. District Judge Kathryn H. Vratil in the District of Kansas, where the litigation will 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.
According to a briefing schedule posted by the U.S. JPML, manufacturers are not expected to respond to the petition until July 10, 2015. Oral arguments over whether to establish a power morcellator MDL are likely to be heard during an upcoming hearing session scheduled for October 1, in New York City.