Philadelphia City Hall building. Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

Philadelphia’s Complex Litigation Center saw a record decline in the number of mass tort cases pending on its dockets over the past year, but overall the inventory remains high.

According to numbers recently released by the court, a total of 9,716 cases were pending in the 11 mass tort programs at the First Judicial District as of early January. That number is a 1,268 decline from the 10,984 cases that were on the mass tort dockets at the beginning of 2018.

The decline is the largest year-to-year drop the court has seen since 2010, which is as far back as available data. Although the court saw 1,594 new cases filed over 2018, it also disposed of 2,903 cases, which was likewise the highest number of mass tort cases that the court disposed of in a single year. But the drop was not enough to erase the staggering growth the court system saw over 2018.

Between 2017 and 2018, the court saw a 77 percent increase in its total inventory, or nearly 4,800 cases added to the dockets. That increase was due mostly to the exponential growth of the Risperdal mass tort, which jumped from 1,945 to 6,200 during that year.

Credit: First Judicial District of PA: Trial Division-Civil

The decline between 2018 and 2019 was due mostly to the Reglan litigation, which fell 95 percent—from 2,073 at the beginning of the year to 97. Reglan was the largest mass tort program in Philadelphia as recently as mid-2017. The litigation, which stemmed from claims that the drug caused an incurable neurological disorder called tardive dyskinesia, reached a global settlement in early 2017, but the cases remained on the docket for some months, and by late 2017, it still made up nearly 20 percent of the Complex Litigation Center’s total inventory.

Risperdal, which has grown to 67 percent of the Complex Litigation Center’s inventory, saw little growth over 2018—adding nearly 350 cases, or 6 percent, over the 6,200 that were pending at the beginning of the year. According to attorneys handling the litigation, the explosive growth the court saw over 2017 was due mostly to the parties scrapping a tolling agreement, which led thousands of plaintiffs to file suit in order to preserve their claims.

Credit: First Judicial District of PA: Trial Division-Civil

Along with Risperdal, litigation over the drug Xarelto and the vena cava filters were the only other mass tort programs to see any growth over the past year.

According to the numbers, the Xarelto program increased by slightly more than 350 cases, or 22 percent, over 2019, growing from 1,619 at the beginning of the year to 1,972 as of early January.

The vena cava filter program added 161 cases, which increased that program from 277 pending cases to 438 by the beginning of the year.

All other mass tort programs saw their numbers drop.

Almost the entire 85-case inventory of the firefighter hearing loss litigation was taken off the dockets. According to the court’s numbers, the inventory went from 85 cases to one.

In August, the Pennsylvania Superior Court struck a blow to the plaintiffs in that litigation when it agreed with a trial court judge, who had determined that it was not sufficient for the plaintiffs to rely on industry standards when it came to their proposed safer alternative design, and instead the plaintiffs should have called an expert to support their argument. That ruling came only months after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit dealt the plaintiffs another blow by agreeing with a district court that the plaintiffs’ attorneys had failed to investigate the claims before filing suit and therefore needed to cover the attorney fees and costs for bringing the lawsuits.

The pelvic mesh litigation saw a decline of 31 cases, shrinking from 119 in early 2018 to 88 pending as of January. The Yaz, Yasmin, Ocella litigation dropped from 19 cases to three, and the asbestos litigation also saw an 18-case dip, which brought the total number of pending asbestos cases to 571.

When it comes to who is filing cases in Philadelphia, the number of plaintiffs hailing from out of state who filed pharmaceutical cases in the past year dropped four percentage points, from 90 percent to 86 percent.

The number of out-of-state plaintiffs who brought asbestos cases in 2018, however, increased significantly, from 47 percent to 60 percent. That number, which represents 154 new cases being filed by an out-of-state plaintiff, is the highest percentage of asbestos plaintiffs hailing from out of state since at least 2010.

Philadelphia Judge Arnold New, who oversees the Complex Litigation Center, declined to be interviewed for the story.