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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Zantac lawsuits has appointed two small groups of attorneys to serve in leadership roles, as practices and procedures are developed for the emerging litigation and the parties work to generate an initial census for all claims being pursued by former users for the recalled heartburn drug who have been diagnosed with cancer or other injuries.
Since it was discovered late last year that Zantac users may be exposed to high levels cancer-causing chemicals, more than 140 product liability and class action lawsuits have already been filed throughout the federal court system. However, as Zantac attorneys continue to review and file claims in the coming months and years, it is ultimately expected that thousands of lawsuits will be filed nationwide.
Each of the complaints raise similar allegations, indicating that the active ingredient in Zantac, ranitidine, produces high levels of the known human carcinogen Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA). Following exposure to the chemical for extended periods of time, plaintiffs claim side effects of Zantac caused them to develop bladder cancer, kidney cancer, colorectal cancer, stomach cancer and other forms of cancer along the digestive tract.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) decided to transfer all claims filed throughout the federal court system to U.S. District Judge Robin L. Rosenberg in the Southern District of Florida, centralizing the pretrial proceedings to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues raised in the lawsuits, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and judicial system.
In a pretrial order (PDF) issued on February 24, Judge Rosenberg appointed four attorneys to an Initial Census Team, and four other attorneys to a Practices and Procedures Team.
The Initial Census Team will help outline the process for conducting a survey about the number of filed Zantac claims and unfiled cases that attorneys nationwide are continuing to investigate, which is designed to help the Court gauge the size of the litigation and best way to manage the pretrial proceedings.
The responsibilities of the Practices and Procedures Team was described in a pretrial order (PDF) issued on February 20, which indicates that the attorneys will help create an early dialog regarding the content and timing of procedural orders that may be helpful in the Zantac litigation.
An initial status conference with Judge Rosenberg is scheduled for March 20, at which time attorneys involved in the litigation will meet with the Court for the first time. Around the time of that conference, it is expected that a larger group of Zantac injury attorneys will be appointed to serve in various leadership roles during the litigation, who will take certain actions that benefit all plaintiffs and argue motions before the Court.
All attorneys seeking to serve in various leadership positions in the Zantac litigation have been directed to attend the Initial Conference in person, with other lawyers able to participate by telephone.
Zantac Cancer Risks
The litigation may become one of the largest active mass tort claims over the next few years, given the widespread use of Zantac for decades before it was removed from the market late last year.
Public concerns about the Zantac cancer risk first emerged in September 2019, when an independent pharmacy discovered that each pill may expose users to levels of NDMA that are drastically higher than the permissible daily intake limits set by the FDA.
The on-line pharmacy Valisure found that some 150 mg pills contained more than 3,000,000 nanograms (ng) of NDMA, yet the daily limit deemed safe by the FDA is only 96 ng.
These problems were not caused by contamination or changes in the manufacturing process, but appear to be part of the inherent molecular structure of the active pharmaceutical ingredient in Zantac, ranitidine, which may produce high levels of NDMA during storage at high temperatures or as it breaks down inside the human body.
Plaintiffs allege the manufacturers of Zantac knew or should have known about these problems for decades, yet aggressively marketed and sold brand-name prescription, generic and over-the-counter versions of Zantac for years, without warning users that it may cause them to develop cancer.
As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings before Judge Rosenberg, it is expected that a “bellwether” program will be established, where a small group of representative claims will be prepared for early trial dates to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the claims.
While the outcome of such early trials will not be binding in other cases, they may help the parties reach Zantac settlements, avoiding the need for potentially hundreds or thousands of individual trials in courts throughout the U.S. federal court system.