Zostavax “Science Day” To Be Held To Educate MDL Court About Side Effects of Shingles Vaccine
The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Zostavax lawsuits has scheduled a “Science Day” for next month, at which time the parties will make presentations designed to educate the Court on the side effects of the shingles vaccine and scientific issues that will come up during the litigation, which currently includes about 2,000 complaints.
Zostavax was introduced in 2006, as the first shingles vaccine approved in the United States, involving a single-dose injection that contained a live virus designed to protect against development of the painful condition. However, lawsuits allege the live virus was not sufficiently weakened, resulting in severe complications, auto-immune reactions and persistent shingles outbreaks among some users receiving the vaccine.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed throughout the federal court system, all claims are currently centralized before U.S. District Judge Harry Bartle in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, as part of a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL).
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As part of the coordinated proceedings, Judge Bartle has established a “bellwether” program, where a small group of representative claims are being prepared for early trial dates in the MDL, which are designed to help evaluate the strengths and weakness of each side’s position, and promote eventual settlement negotiations.
Throughout the pretrial proceedings, the Court will be asked to rule on a number of matters which will require background knowledge about science related to the shingles vaccine and side effects experienced by plaintiffs throughout the litigation.
In a pretrial order (PDF) issued on August 23, Judge Bartle announced that a “Science Day” hearing will be held on September 24, including “off-the-record” presentations that are not subject to cross examination. Each side will be given three hours for their presentations, and nothing said during the Science Day will be binding or used for any purpose other than educating the Court
Defendants are required to disclose the subjects they intend to present by September 1, and the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee will disclose the subjects it intends to present by September 3.
In another pretrial order (PDF), issued on the same day, the Court also announced that all motions to exclude the testimony of expert witnesses, and additional motions for summary judgment, must be submitted on or before September 28. Responses to those motions shall be due by October 14, with supply briefs in support of the motions due by November 1.
The first bellwether Zostavax trial is currently expected to begin in January 2022, which will be selected from a group of six cases selected by the parties for case-specific discovery.
Each of the nearly 2,000 product liability lawsuits filed against Merck & Co. raise similar allegations, alleging that the drug maker withheld critical information about side effects of the Zostavax shingles vaccine, and failed to disclose evidence that users were experiencing severe and persistent outbreaks and other auto-immune problems after receiving the vaccine, such as meningitis, acute disseminated encephalopmyelitis (ADEM), paralysis and other health problems.
While the outcome of the bellwether trials will not be binding on other plaintiffs, it will be closely watched by parties involved in the litigation and are expected to greatly influence any eventual shingles vaccine settlements that the manufacturer may offer to individuals who experienced problems with Zostavax, which may be necessary to avoid the eventual need for hundreds of individual trial dates to be scheduled in U.S. District Courts nationwide in the coming years.
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