Lawsuits alleging health and financial injury from the anti-blood-clot drug Plavix are piling up in New Jersey following the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation’s decision to centralize them here.
There are 73 cases pending under the caption In re Plavix Product Liability and Marketing Litigation, MDL-2418, and the MDL panel on Thursday was considering the transfer of another 14.
The cases are consolidated for discovery and assigned to District Judge Freda Wolfson and Magistrate Judge Tonianne Bongiovanni.
The plaintiffs claim personal injury or financial loss from the purchase and use of Plavix, a prescription blood thinner intended to prevent heart attacks and strokes that was introduced in 1997.
The drug’s sales peaked at more than $9 billion in 2011 but have plummeted in the face of competition from generics since the patent expired in May 2012.
It is manufactured and sold by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., of New York, and Sanofi-Aventis, of Bridgewater, aided by McKesson Corporation of San Francisco, a marketing and distribution company. McKesson is also named as a defendant in some of the suits.
The plaintiffs typically claim that Plavix was falsely advertised as gentler than aspirin yet more effective in preventing heart attack and stroke and that the makers rushed it to market even though they knew or should have known it actually increases risk of heart attack, stroke, internal bleeding and even death.
For example, a case transferred Wednesday from the Northern District of California, Justice v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., alleges that Plavix caused death, personal injury, economic loss and other damages. It includes counts of strict product liability, negligence, breach of warranty, misrepresentation, wrongful death and violation of consumer protection laws in California, where it was originally brought. It has 61 plaintiffs, some of them representing decedents’ estates.
U.S. v. Bristol-Myers Squibb is an example of the other type of case, targeted at allegedly false marketing of the drug. It seeks damages and civil penalties under the False Claims Act on behalf of government entities who, as a result, allegedly overpaid for it through Medicaid and Medicare programs.
The plaintiffs are the United States, the states of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin, and the cities of Chicago and Washington, D.C.
The Plavix cases date back to 2006. The defendants wanted them consolidated in New Jersey while the plaintiffs universally opposed it, even those in New Jersey, on the ground their cases were at an advanced stage and would be unfairly delayed if made part of an MDL.
The MDL panel denied the initial request in December 2011, when there were 12 actions pending in three districts. But it said yes the second time, in February 2013, when there were 21 actions in nine districts.
There were also a lot more law firms involved, as well as thousands of related state court cases, which pointed to a likely increase in federal suits, the panel noted.
Some of the other plaintiffs’ firms are Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik in New York, Parker Waichman in Port Washington, N.Y., and The Miller Firm, with offices in Virginia, Mississippi and Washington, D.C.
The panel consolidated only nine of the 21 cases in New Jersey, including two already there, but denied the motion without prejudice as to the other 12, all but one filed in the Northern District of California, to await rulings on efforts to remand them to state court. It has transferred 64 more cases since then.
In July, Wolfson named Robert Salim of Salim-Beasley in Natchitoches, La., who has the False Claims Act case and others, as plaintiffs’ liaison counsel.
As lead defense counsel, she named Anand Agneshwar of Arnold & Porter in New York.
Salim says things are still at an early stage, with the parties “trying to get the lay of the land.”
No discovery plan is yet in place and the parties are not briefing what they think it should be.
The defense brief was due Jan. 27 and the plaintiffs’ on Feb. 10.
Agneshwar referred a request for comment to Bristol-Myers and Sanofi, which declined to comment on pending litigation, but they issued a joint statement regarding Plavix.
They called Plavix “one of the most studied medicines, with over a decade of real-world experience in patients with acute coronary syndrome, recent stroke, recent heart attack and peripheral arterial disease,” and said it has been prescribed to more than 115 million patients worldwide, including more than 50 million in the United States.
Local counsel David Harris, of Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland, also declines comment.
In addition to the federal actions, there are thousands of similar suits pending in state court, primarily in California and Illinois, says Salim.
New Jersey state courts had a lot of Plavix cases too at one point, enough that on July 12, 2011, they were designated for centralized management in Middlesex County and assigned to Superior Court Judge Jessica Mayer.
Six months later, however, on Jan. 24, 2012, the designation was terminated following the dismissal of all of the cases with prejudice by stipulation of the parties on Nov. 1, 2011.
Counsel for the state plaintiffs, Thomas Preuss of Wagstaff & Cartmell in Kansas City, and local counsel Robert Fendt, of Perskie & Fendt in Northfield, did not return a call seeking the reason for dropping the suits.