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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Nexium lawsuits, Prilosec lawsuits and other complaints involving kidney problems linked to proton pump inhibitor (PPI) heartburn drugs will discuss the schedule for “bellwether” trials during a status conference later this week.
There are currently more than 13,600 product liability cases brought by individuals throughout the U.S., each involving similar allegations that side effects of Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec and other popular heart burn medications caused chronic kidney disease, acute kidney injury or other renal complications.
Given common questions of fact and law, the litigation has been centralized before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi in the District of New Jersey since 2017, as part of an MDL, which is designed to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the judicial system.
As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings, the Court previously laid out a proposed plan for selecting a small group of representative “bellwether” claims, which will be used to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain testimony and evidence that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.
According to a status report (PDF) issued on Friday, the parties intend to discuss competing proposals regarding the scheduling of the first trials during a status conference tomorrow.
In a letter (PDF) submitted by the Plaintiffs Steering Committee (PSC), attorneys representing individuals injured by the drugs indicate that the first cases can be ready for trial to begin by March 2021. However, attorneys for the drug makers are proposing that the first trial date not begin until March 2021, which the PSC claims is part of a continuing pattern designed to delay the litigation.
“These tactics have wasted valuable time, during which, many plaintiffs have died,” the plaintiffs’ leadership attorneys stated. “Indeed, under Defendants proposed trial schedule, the first federal court trial would not take place until nearly 5 years after this MDL formed.”
In a separate letter (PDF) submitted by the Defendants, the drug makers indicate that additional time is needed to go through the large number of lawsuits filed, indicating that April 2022 is the “earliest date on which a trial could reasonably take place.”
Kidney Risks with Nexium, Prilosec and Other PPI Drugs
The proton pump inhibitor litigation first emerged several years ago, following the publication of studies that suggested users may face certain kidney risks that were not disclosed on the warning labels for popular heartburn drugs, including Nexium, Prilosec, Protonix, Prevacid and other medications.
The FDA required new warnings about potential kidney risks for the first time in December 2014, indicating that use of the drugs may increase the risk of a form of kidney damage known as acute interstitial nephritis (AIN), which involves a sudden inflammation of the kidneys, which can lead to more severe problems. However, plaintiffs maintain that this warning remains inadequate and vague, failing to mention that the drugs may cause an acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease or kidney failure.
In January 2016, an independent study published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine found an increased risk of chronic kidney disease with the heartburn medications, indicating that users of Nexium, Prilosec and other PPI may be 50% more likely when compared to non-users.
These findings were followed by another study published in April 2016, in which researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs found that users of Nexium, Prilosec or other PPIs may be 96% more likely to develop kidney failure and 28% more likely to develop chronic kidney disease after five years of use.
As consumers have learned about a link between their heartburn drug and kidney problems suffered in recent years, a rapidly growing number of lawsuits have been filed throughout the federal court system.
While the outcome of the early bellwether trials before Judge Cecchi will not be binding on other Nexium and Prilosec cases pending in the litigation, they will be closely watched and may have a big influence on any eventual settlement negotiations, which would be necessary to avoid thousands of individual cases being set for separate trial dates nationwide in the coming years.