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Following the recent consolidation of all Zantac recall lawsuits as part of a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL), an initial conference has been scheduled for March 20, 2020, at which time lawyers involved in the claims will meet with the U.S. District Judge appointed to preside over the coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.
Since it was discovered late last year that the popular heartburn drug exposes users to high levels cancer-causing chemicals, more than 140 product liability and class action lawsuits over Zantac have already been filed throughout the federal court system. However, as Zantac lawyers continue to review and file claims for former users diagnosed with various types of cancer, it is ultimately expected that thousands of claims will be presented in the coming weeks and months.
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 before one judge is designed 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 14, Judge Rosenberg announced that lawyers involved in the litigation will meet with the Court for an Initial Conference at 9:00 a.m. on March 20, to discuss the status of the litigation and plan for managing the growing number of claims.
“Counsel shall confer and seek consensus to the extent possible with respect to the items on the agenda, including a proposed discovery plan, amendment of pleadings, consideration of any class action allegations, and motions, and be prepared to discuss the mode of trial,” according to the order, which also directs the parties to file any proposed case management orders or additional agenda items by March 6.
Judge Rosenberg indicates the Court is also considering an initial census, which would determine the number of both filed and unfiled claims under investigation by Zantac lawyers, to help manage the litigation from the outset. Therefore, a small “Initial Census Team” will be formed, to determine the best timing and content for the survey, and how to best organize and implement data analytics in the cases.
The parties have also been directed to each submit a brief Position Statement by March 6, outlining their respective understandings of the facts involved in the litigation and the critical factual and legal issues the Court will face. These statements will not be binding on the parties, but will include no more than two expert witnesses who would be available within the next several months to participate in a “Science Day” designed to educate the Court on issues that will be raised in the litigation.
All Zantac attorneys seeking to serve in various leadership positions in the litigation must attend the Initial Conference in person, with other lawyers able to participate by telephone.
Zantac Cancer Risks
The Zantac litigation may become one of the largest active mass tort claims over the next few years, given the widespread use of the acid reflux and heartburn drug 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.