Link Between Zantac and Cancer To Be Considered by MDL Court Before Selection of Bellwether Trials

As thousands of Zantac cancer lawsuits continue to be filed by former users of the recalled heartburn drug, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation indicates the Court will consider challenges to the admissibility of expert witness testimony about the link between Zantac and cancer before moving forward with bellwether trials.

Since it was discovered late last year that side effects of Zantac may expose users to high levels the carcinogenic chemical Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), a growing number of product liability claims have been presented throughout the federal court system by individuals who indicate they developed breast cancer, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, stomach cancer and other injuries.

Each of the complaints raise similar allegations, indicating that the drug makers knew ranitidine contained in the widely used heartburn drug was inherently unstable, yet they continued to market and sell the drug for decades, exposing users throughout the U.S. to an increased risk of cancer.

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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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Given common questions of fact and law, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) decided to consolidate the cases in February 2020, transferring complaints filed throughout the federal court system to U.S. District Judge Robin L. Rosenberg in the Southern District of Florida, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

In complex pharmaceutical litigation, where a large number of plaintiffs present claims involving similar injuries following use of the same product, it is common for the court to coordinate the pretrial proceedings to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues presented by different parties, avoid conflicting rulings from different courts and serve the convenience of parties, witnesses and the judicial system.

It is also common for the court to establish a “bellwether” program, where a small group of representative cases are prepared for early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the claims. However, as Zantac recall lawyers continue to review and file claims in the coming weeks and months, it is widely expected that tens of thousands of claims will be brought by former users of the blockbuster drug, presenting unique challenges in this litigation.

In a pretrial order (PDF) issued on May 28, the Court laid out the path for moving the cases forward, while new claims continue to be filed.

Over the next 18 months the parties will complete an initial phase of discovery that focuses on general causation issues about the link between Zantac and cancer, after which the parties will file Daubert challenges to the admissibility of expert witness testimony.

According to the order, the Court will hear challenges to these general causation experts before proceeding with bellwether selections, but the parties are to begin discussing the methods and processes for best selecting representative cases during this 18-month discovery period, which will also involve the completion of all fact discovery from the drug makers, including document discovery and fact depositions.

Unless the drug makers are able to exclude plaintiffs’ expert witnesses from testifying at trial or negotiate Zantac settlements to resolve large numbers of cases after the bellwether process, Judge Rosenberg may later begin remanding thousands of individual cases back to different U.S. District Courts for separate trials before juries nationwide.

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