Zantac Jury Trial Over Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis Gets Underway in Illinois

Jury is hearing evidence after several prior Zantac cancer lawsuits were settled weeks before trial was set to begin in other courts.

The first trial involving claims that the recalled heartburn drug Zantac can cause cancer began today in Chicago, more than four years after the product was pulled from the market.

Opening statements are expected to begin today in the Circuit Court of Cook County, involving claims brought by Angela Valadez against GlaxoSmithKline and Boehringer Ingelheim, both of whom marketed versions of the drug. Valdez’s lawsuit claims she developed colorectal cancer as a result of using the over-the-counter versions of Zantac and its generic equivalents from 1995 to 2014.

Zantac (ranitidine) was used by millions of Americans for treatment of heartburn and acid reflux, before it was removed from the market in late 2019, following the discovery that the active pharmaceutical ingredient is inherently unstable and produces high levels of the chemical byproduct N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), which is a potent human carcinogen.

GlaxoSmithKline, Boehringer Ingelheim Pfizer, Sanofi and various other manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, face nearly 80,000 Zantac lawsuits in various state courts nationwide, with most filed in Delaware. The claims were brought by former users who indicate they have been diagnosed with bladder cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, stomach cancer and other injuries after taking brand name Zantac or one of its generic equivalents.

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Side effects of Zantac may increase the risk of cancer, due to chemical impurities found in the heartburn drug.

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For several years, most of the litigation was focused in the federal court system, where all Zantac cancer lawsuits were centralized before Judge Robin L. Rosenberg in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings. However, in 2022 Judge Rosenberg issued a controversial ruling, determining that all of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses were excluded from testifying at trial under federal evidentiary rules.

While appeals have been filed to challenge Judge Rosenberg’s ruling, the decision has left federal plaintiffs without any means of proving the recalled Zantac pills caused their cancer, and all Zantac lawsuits pending in the federal court system have been dismissed. However, the federal ruling did not have any impact on lawsuits filed in Illinois, Delaware and various other state courts, where different standards for the admissibility of expert witness testimony apply.

Over the last year, several individual state court lawsuits were scheduled to go to trial, but Zantac settlements were reached in each case before the case could go before a jury. GlaxoSmithKline reached Zantac settlement agreements in two such cases earlier this year.

Valadez’s lawsuit is the first to actually get into the courtroom. Jury selection for the trial began on Tuesday and carried through to Wednesday, with opening statements beginning today.

The trial gets underway just weeks after a Sanofi Zantac settlement agreement was announced, resolving 4,000 state court cases brought against that specific manufacturer outside of Delaware. While details of the settlement have not been officially released, media reports indicate the settlement may provide about $25,000 per claimant.

That leaves about 72,000 claims remaining, mostly in Delaware state court, where Judge Vivian Medinilla is currently weighing whether Zantac cases in that state should be dismissed on similar grounds as the federal cases, following hearings held in January. Her decision could determine whether the bulk of Zantac lawsuits filed in that state move forward. Much like the federal cases, if manufacturers can convince Judge Medinilla to exclude all of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, it would effectively kill the litigation in that venue, where most claims have been filed since the federal MDL was dismissed.

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