The litigation over Risperdal has not only become the largest mass tort program in Philadelphia’s busy court system, it has also nearly tripled in size from about 2,000 cases at the start of the year to more than 5,500 as of June.
According to the latest statistics from the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, litigation over the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal jumped from being 31.4 percent of the Complex Litigation Center’s inventory as of Jan. 1 to 55.8 percent as of June 14. That number represents a 185 percent increase from the 1,945 at the start of the year, and is due to 3,617 new cases being filed in the mass tort since January. As of early June, 5,548 Risperdal cases were pending.
Attorney Thomas R. Kline, who, as part of a consortium of attorneys from Kline & Specter, Sheller P.C. and Arnold & Itkin, is handling approximately three-quarters of the Risperdal docket in Philadelphia, said the recent influx was caused mostly by a tolling agreement that was terminated last year.
Although he said the latest wave of cases is largely over, he anticipates the litigation will continue to grow in Philadelphia. In particular, he noted the recent jurisdictional ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California, the numerous issues on appealbefore the state Superior Court, and what Kline said is a lack of progress toward a “reasonable” global settlement.
“The significant influx of cases is a direct result of Johnson & Johnson’s actions,” he said, specifically referencing the termination of the tolling agreement.
A spokeswoman for Janssen, the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary that makes Risperdal, said the company plans to “continue to defend this litigation and will try cases where appropriate.”
“We do not have insight into plaintiffs’ choices regarding when and where they initiate lawsuits,” Janssen spokeswoman Jessica Castles Smith said in an emailed statement.
According to the statistics, 94 percent of the latest filings comes from outside Pennsylvania. That is the highest the court has seen since at least 2005.
Philadelphia has long been a hub for mass tort litigation, often attracting suits from plaintiffs who live outside Pennsylvania. Frequently finding itself on the American Tort Reform Foundation’s list of “judicial hellholes,” the court made some administrative changes to the program in 2012, in part to address a growing backlog.
Since the court began measuring the number of out-of-state filings in 2005, the percentage of cases filed by plaintiffs from outside Pennsylvania has mostly hovered between 85 and 89 percent. Last year saw the lowest percentage of out-of-state filings since 2005.
Kline said the plaintiffs hale from all over the country, and balked at the criticism that having plaintiffs from outside the Keystone State unfairly burdens Pennsylvania courts, specifically noting that Philadelphia is considered to be a home venue for Janssen.
“It’s like the [Pittsburgh] Pirates saying we would like to play all our games in Philadelphia,” he said. “We will play all the games here on your home court.”
According to Kline, eight to 10 trials are listed to take place through the rest of 2017 and the first half of 2018.
Although the largest mass tort that Philadelphia has seen was the Fen-Phen litigation, which involved about 15,000 cases, Judge Arnold New, supervising judge of the Complex Litigation Center, said the Risperdal mass tort is the largest he has seen since he began leading the center in 2012.
New said he had been anticipating significant growth in the Risperdal mass tort, and he has been asking the parties for more information about the cases in an effort to get a better understanding of the litigation for administrative purposes. For example, one recent ruling requires plaintiffs to submit more information about their prescribing doctors and their injuries when filing. But New added that information including where a plaintiff is from and their ages can also help the court to focus on handling cases that don’t involve issues up on appeal.
“As we’ve had this growth in cases, we’ve been trying to get more and more information from the lawyers to determine how to handle these cases, how try these cases, and when,” he said. “Risperdal really is overwhelmingly gynecomastia, but maybe if some claims arise over stroke, or heart attack, I want to know about it.”
The court, he said, is expecting more cases to be filed, particularly in the wake of the Bristol-Myers Squibb decision.
“That’s fine. We have a great court system that knows how to deal with mass torts as efficiently as possible in order to have all the parties reach a resolution that’s acceptable,” he said.
The Risperdal mass tort saw, by far, the largest growth out of the nine programs pending in Philadelphia.
The Xarelto mass tort grew by 210 cases, or 17 percent, from 1,214 to 1,424. The pelvic mesh litigation was the only other program to see any growth. It increased 7 percent, rising from 164 to 176.
The Yaz, Yazmin, Ocella mass tort, which came to a settlement agreement in 2015, fell 80 percent, from 109 to 22, and the asbestos docket dropped by 7 percent, from 595 to 554. Fen-Phen also dropped by 33 percent, but it started the year with only three cases pending.
Reglan also dropped by 74 cases, or 3 percent. But with 2,091 cases pending as of early June, it was the second largest mass tort in the Complex Litigation Center, making up 21 percent of the inventory.
Max Mitchell can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MMitchellTLI.