Zantac Initial Conference Canceled Amid Coronavirus Concerns

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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Zantac lawsuits has canceled the initial status conference scheduled for Friday, due to concerns over the coronavirus.

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 recall lawyers 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 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.

Last 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.

Although Judge Rosenberg was expected to meet for the first time with lawyers involved in the case on March 20, a pretrial order (PDF) on March 13 has canceled the initial status conference. The Court has also canceled interviews for attorneys seeking leadership positions, which were set for March 19.

“The Court will endeavor to reschedule the Initial Conference at a time when all prospective participants can attend in person,” Judge Rosenberg wrote. “However, in light of the fact that the Court cannot predict the duration of time that the coronavirus situation may continue, the Court may have to reschedule the conference at a time and in a manner that provides for attendance by alternative means, such as videoconferencing.”

Judge Rosenberg called for parties to work together to help plan how the litigation can efficiently move forward in light of the unusual circumstances. He also noted that currently, all of the deadlines the court has already put in place are still in effect.

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.

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