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Zantac Cancer Lawsuits Move to MDL Phase

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Settlements Likely – But Not Soon

West Palm Beach, FLZantac cancer lawsuits will be consolidated in multidistrict litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. At the time of its formation on February 6, the MDL included 15 cases. An additional 126 cases were pending in 21 districts nationwide, and more plaintiffs are expected to join. The consolidated lawsuit will include cancer injury claims and consumer class actions against defendants who manufactured, sold or distributed Zantac and other ranitidine medications.

Further information about the consolidated lawsuit is expected to be forthcoming after the first pretrial conference currently scheduled for March 20. Two things are clear already though:  this thing is big, and the MDL process, although not speedy, can be expected to facilitate settlements.


HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE HARMED BY ZANTAC?          


Glaxo Holdings Ltd, now a part of GlaxoSmithKline PLC, received its first FDA approval for Zantac as a short-term ulcer treatment in 1983.Thirty-seven years later; testing has shown that Zantac and similar heartburn medications may contain N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) at unsafe levels. At those levels, NDMA is classified as a probable human carcinogen and has been linked to:
  • Bladder, colon and rectal cancers;
  • Intestinal cancer;
  • Esophageal cancer;
  • Kidney and liver cancers;
  • Ovarian cancer;
  • Pancreatic cancer; and
  • Stomach cancer
Two problems emerge when it comes to assessing the extent of the harm that these drugs may have caused. The first, of course, is the length of time they have been on the market. The second has to do with the source of elevated NMDA levels.

Rather than being traceable to contamination at a particular source of manufacture, a recent study suggests that dangerously high NMDA levels are linked to a combination of heat and time, potentially while drugs are sitting in packaging well after being analyzed by their manufacturers.  

The scene of the crime may be a shipping container, a hot car or a home medicine cabinet. The drug itself may be “inherently unstable” and dangerous. The harm may have come from nearly limitless sources.

Despite indications of potentially widespread exposure to toxic levels of NMDA, the FDA has permitted ranitidine-containing medications to remain on the market. An expanded series of recalls  by manufacturers and pharmacies have made them scarcer, but it is impossible to accurately assess how many people have already been harmed. The potential for lawsuits is enormous.


THE MDL PROCESS


In general terms, the Zantac MDL may be expected to proceed in ways that are similar to the Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder MDL or the Roundup Products Liability MDL.

After an MDL is created, the first stage is discovery, during which both sides of a lawsuit gather facts and develop evidence. In an MDL involving a prescription drug, this involves gathering the documents and taking depositions of the employees of the pharmaceutical company, distributors and other parties involved.  There may be millions of pages of documents produced to be evaluated in light of two big questions:
  • Whether there is a scientific link between the drug and the injury; and
  • Whether the manufacturer or any other parties in the chain of distribution knew of the link and failed to warn doctors and patients.
To assist in answering these questions, either side may also elicit testimony from expert witnesses to interpret scientific evidence.
Eventually, the court will select one or more cases for trial. These “bellwether trials” often preview how similar cases may resolve. The trials also test the strength of the evidence, witness and expert testimony and arguments before an actual jury. After the bellwether trials, the remaining cases often settle or they may be transferred to their home states to await individual trial.


SETTLEMENT OR LAWSUIT ADVANTAGES


Whichever route any given Zantac cancer lawsuit takes, the MDL process can have significant advantages. There are disadvantages, as well. 

It is not quick. On the other hand, however, an individual plaintiff may have an advantage from a shared discovery process. This is often one of the most time consuming (and thus expensive) aspects of a lawsuit.

If the bellwether trials are sufficiently similar to a particular lawsuit, they may provide clear guidance for settlement terms. The results can expedite settlement from a defendant who sees no particularly good prospects in going to trial. Of course, if a particular claim is stronger than the bellwether trials, a plaintiff may ultimately feel that the MDL process has depressed the value of his or her claim.


WHAT’S NEXT?


The single most important thing anyone who believes that they have been injured by Zantac can do is to speak with a lawyer about a potential lawsuit. Only then can a case be evaluated.

READ ABOUT ZANTAC HEARTBURN MEDICATION LAWSUITS

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