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Following a status conference later this month, the U.S. District judge presiding over all federal varsartan lawsuits is expected to appoint a group of lawyers to serve in various leadership positions in the litigation.
There are currently about 50 product liability lawsuits filed against various generic drug manufacturers and distributors, each raising similar claims that versions of the hypertension drug valsartan were distributed for years with cancer-causing impurities, including N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) and N-Nitrosodiethylamine (NDEA), which appear to be a by-product of the generic drug manufacturing process.
Many of the complaints involve allegations that users of the recalled valsartan drugs developed liver cancer, kidney cancer, colon cancer, stomach cancer and other digestive tract cancers, pursuing damages against Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical Company of China, which manufactured much of the tainted pharmaceutical ingredients, as well as other defendants.
Given common questions of fact and law presented in lawsuits filed in various different U.S. District Courts nationwide, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established coordinated pretrial proceedings lawsuit last month, which resulted in the transfer of cases pending throughout the federal court system to U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler in the District of New Jersey. The process is designed to reduce duplicative discovery, avoid conflicting pretrial schedules and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the judicial system.
In a case management order (PDF) issued on April 2, Judge Kugler called for leadership counsel in the litigation to send a notice to all plaintiffs’ attorneys asking if they have an interest in joining the plaintiffs’ leadership committees. Responses are to be submitted by no later than April 18, and a list of members nominated members for plaintiffs’ leadership committees are to be submitted by April 22.
Judge Kugler will consider that list of valsartan lawyers at the next status conference, which is scheduled for April 24.
In complex medical device cases, where a large group of lawsuits present similar claims, it is common for the Court to appoint a group of lawyers to leadership roles to coordinate general discovery into common issues in the cases, argue motions before the court and take certain actions during the MDL proceedings that will benefit all plaintiffs. However, each individual plaintiff will still maintain their own attorney to handle case-specific issues and establish that their injuries were caused by the recalled valsartan medications.
As more individuals discover that they may have received contaminated valsartan pills, a growing number of lawsuits are likely to be filed by individuals nationwide.
Following coordinated discovery and any early “bellwether” trials held in the MDL, if the manufacturers fail to negotiate valsartan settlements or another resolution for the litigation, each individual case may ultimately be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a future trial date.