Zantac Cancer Lawsuits Move to MDL Phase

Long overdue lawsuits for the antacid drug, Zantac, are now to be consolidated in multidistrict litigation (MDL) in Florida’s Southern District in the United States District Court. This was initially formed on February 6 with just 15 cases. At least 126 cases are pending throughout the country in 21 districts with the expectation that more plaintiffs will join sooner rather than later. This consolidated lawsuit is to include both the consumers’ class actions and claims for cancer injury against those defendants who were responsible for the production, selling and distributing of Zantac and all other ranitidine drugs.

20th March 1st pretrial conference

More information concerning this consolidated lawsuit should be available after the 1st pretrial conference. It is expected that after the MDL process is complete, which will take some time, it will enable settlements to take place for the plaintiffs.

How many victims were affected by Zantac?

Glaxo Holdings Ltd., which today is referred to as GlaxoSmithKline PLC gained FDA backing for the production of Zantac in 1983 to be used for ulcer treatment in just the short term. It took 37 years to realize that Zantac and some other medications used to treat heartburn could contain N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) in unsafe amounts. These amounts classify NDMA as a probable human carcinogen which has links to certain cancers such as:

  • stomach cancer
  • rectal cancer
  • pancreatic cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • liver cancer
  • intestinal cancer
  • esophageal cancer
  • colon cancer
  • bladder cancer

It is difficult to assess exactly how much harm these drugs have inflicted on the consumer as it is partly dependent on how long they have been on the market. Also, the causes of high NMDA levels have to be considered as well.

What could cause heat exposure to Zantac?

A study published recently has suggested that the contamination may not have been as a result of the manufacturing process as such but it could be due to a combination of time and heat. This could take place while the medications are in their packaging sitting around in storage or on shelves for a long time after they were initially analyzed by the manufacturers. There are a number of possibilities that could lead to Zantac being exposed to heat such as while being transported in bulk in a 40 foot shipping container, a hot vehicle or a dedicated medicine cabinet in the consumer’s home. The drug of course could be simply dangerous in itself, or just inherently unstable.

The FDA hasn’t banned the marketing of Zantac

Even though there is very clear evidence that Zantac contains NDMA at toxic levels, the FDA still allows these ranitidine based medications to be sold publicly. Over the last few months, however, some pharmacies and manufacturers have voluntarily reduced the amount of the product, but typically it is difficult to assess accurately just how many consumers have been made ill by the products. There are likely to be more and more victims coming forward to file lawsuits against manufacturers for not taking seriously the fact that they have been providing a defective drug which is likely to cause harm to users.

How the MDL works

There have been several successful MDLs recently, such as the one against Johnson & Johnson for their talcum powder products and the one filed against Monsanto/ Bayer over Roundup. It is expected the Zantac MDL will follow a similar pattern.

As soon as the MDL is initiated it goes through a 1st stage which is called discovery. During this period both the plaintiffs and defendants gather the facts they need and use this as evidence. In MDLs which involve prescription drugs, this is not just assembling relevant documents but also taking depositions from the pharmaceutical companies’ employees and the product’s distributors and anyone else involved in the production and distribution of the drug.  Two key questions need to be answered which are:

  • What is the scientific link is between the medication and the harm it has inflicted?
  • Was the manufacturer of the medication or anyone else involved in the distribution chain aware of the link, but didn’t do anything about it, such as not alerting the potential dangers to both physicians and patients?

To be able to answer these questions accurately, both the plaintiffs and defendants may call upon expert witnesses who have the knowledge to interpret the scientific evidence available.

After a while, the court may select at least one case for trial. This “bellwether trial” is often an indication of how comparable cases may be resolved. These sorts of trials are a way of testing the strength of any evidence, witness testimonies and arguments presented before a jury. Following a successful bellwether trial, the last remaining cases usually reach a settlement, or they are transferred to home states where they await individual trials.

Whatever the route a particular Zantac lawsuit ends up taking, the MDL may have useful advantages. It takes a long time but the plaintiff could gain substantially from the process of shared discovery.

If the bellwether trial resembles a specific lawsuit, it may offer clear guidance for the terms of a settlement. The outcome can speed up settlement for a defendant who can see there is little use proceeding to a trial. However, if a claim appears to be stronger than bellwether trials, the plaintiff might feel that going through the MDL process has decreased the claim’s value.

If you, or a family member, have been injured by using Zantac, you should contact Coffey McPharlinyers who will evaluate your case and decide if there is sufficient evidence to file a lawsuit.