Viagra Melanoma Lawsuits Consolidated as Federal MDL in California

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has decided to consolidate and centralize all Viagra lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system involving claims that the popular erectile dysfunction drug caused men to develop melanoma, a serious and potentially life-threatening form of skin cancer. 

There are currently several dozen product liability lawsuits pending against Pfizer in U.S. District Courts throughout the country, each involving similar allegations that the drug maker failed to adequately warn about the increased risk of melanoma that may be caused by side effects of Viagra.

With Viagra melanoma lawyers continuing to review and file additional cases on behalf of men nationwide, it is ultimately expected that the size of the litigation will continue to grow over the coming months and years, with many expecting that hundreds, if not thousands, of lawsuits will eventually be involved in the MDL.

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In a transfer order (PDF) issued on April 7, the U.S. JPML decided to centralize the Viagra litigation before U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in the Northern District of California. The move is designed to reduce the risk of duplicative discovery into common issues in the cases, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different courts and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the judicial system.

“These actions share factual questions arising out of the allegation that Viagra (sildenafil citrate) causes or increases the risk of developing melanoma and that defendant failed to warn consumers and health care providers of the alleged risk,” wrote Judge Sarah Vance, Chair of the U.S. JPML in the order. “Additionally, all actions rely principally on the same studies to support their claims. Issues concerning general causation, the background science, regulatory history, and marketing will be common to all actions.”

While the MDL proceedings may be confused with a class action for Viagra, each of the claims will still remain an individual lawsuit, and each plaintiff will still need to establish that their injury was caused by Pfizer’s failure to adequately warn about the melanoma risk.

Before the U.S. JPML, all parties involved in the litigation supported centralizing the cases in the Northern District of California, and the panel noted that Judge Seeborg is an “experienced transferee judge who is willing and able to efficiently manage this litigation.”

Viagra Melanoma Side Effects

Viagra (sildenafil citrate) was introduced by Pfizer in 1998, and it has become one of the most widely recognized brand-name medications on the market in the United States, used by millions of men to treat impotence and sexual dysfunction, including the inability to develop or maintain an erection.

Since its approval, Viagra has been prescribed to an estimated 35 million men, and is generally considered safe by most consumers. However, recent studies suggest that the medication may reduce the body’s ability to resist the spread of melanoma.

The Viagra skin cancer litigation began to emerge after a study was published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine in April 2014, in which researchers from Harvard Medical School found that men who took Viagra were 84% more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma than men who do not use the drug.

Plaintiffs allege that Pfizer knew or should have known about the link between Viagra and melanoma for years before this, indicating that studies published as early as 2011 suggested that the erectile dysfunction drug may promote melanoma cell invasion. Another study published in the Journal of Cell Biochemistry in 2012 also found that PDE5 inhibitors like Viagra could exacerbate melanoma development.

The American Cancer Society indicates that melanoma is diagnosed in about 69,000 Americans each year and causes about 8,650 deaths annually. The skin cancer usually manifests as unusual moles or patches of skin. While it is often curable if caught early, once melanoma has spread beyond the skin and local lymph nodes, treatment is difficult and it may ultimately result in death.

As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings before Judge Seeborg, it is expected that a small group of representative Viagra lawsuits will be selected for a series of “bellwether” trials, which are designed to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be presented throughout the claims.

While the outcomes of these cases will not be binding on other claims, they may influence eventual negotiations with Pfizer to reach Viagra melanoma settlements. However, if the drug maker fails to settle or resolve the litigation following the MDL proceedings, each case may be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a separate trial date.

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