Philadelphia City Hall, Handout
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The number of mass tort cases pending in Philadelphia’s Complex Litigation Center at the start of 2017 has risen to its highest level in more than five years.

According to the First Judicial District’s latest figures regarding the court’s mass torts inventory, the number of cases pending in mass tort programs has risen for the third year in a row, and has surpassed the number of cases pending in 2012 when the court began implementing changes aimed at clearing its mass tort inventory.

The number of cases pending in the inventory as of Jan. 1, according to the court, is 6,196. That includes 5,601 pharmaceutical cases, and 595 asbestos cases. The number is a 15.6 percent increase over the 5,320 that were pending at the start of 2016, and 22 more cases than the inventory saw at the start of 2012.

However, despite the growth of the overall inventory, the number of out-of-state plaintiffs filing pharmaceutical cases in the Complex Litigation Center is at its lowest point in more than 10 years.

According to the numbers, of the 1,329 pharmaceutical cases filed in 2016, 990, or 74 percent, were by plaintiffs from outside Pennsylvania. That number is a nearly 10 percent drop from 2015, when 81 percent of the cases were filed by out-of-state plaintiffs, and a 20 percent drop from 2014, when plaintiffs from outside Pennsylvania filed 89 percent of the pharmaceutical cases.

For asbestos cases, the number of out-of-state plaintiffs rose slightly from 33 percent in 2015 to 35 percent in 2016.

A total of 1,615 new cases were filed during 2016, according to the court’s statistics, which is an increase of 327 cases, or more than 25 percent, over the 1,288 that were filed in 2015.

The numbers come about five years after the Complex Litigation Center made some administrative changes aimed at clearing out the court’s clogged mass tort program. Some of the changes included ending reverse bifurcation of cases, and restricting the consolidation of pharmaceutical cases.

The largest percentage of cases making up the inventory deal with Reglan, but the inventory of cases over the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal is not far behind. The Reglan cases make up nearly 34 percent of the inventory, while Risperdal makes up more than 31 percent of the collective mass tort docket. In 2015, 43 percent of the inventory were Reglan cases, and Risperdal made up slightly more than 26 percent.

Although Risperdal had an increase of 550 cases over 2016, or a nearly 40 percent jump, cases over the blood thinner Xarelto saw the biggest increase, with 664 new cases, or a leap of 121 percent, during 2016.

The largest decrease came in the Yaz, Yasmin and Ocella program. That could be because in August 2015 those drugmakers agreed to a nearly $57 million settlement over claims that the birth control pills caused blood clots.

The Reglan program saw the second-largest drop of inventory, losing 127 cases over 2016, while the pelvic mesh program decreased by 16 cases to 164 pending at the start of 2017.

Although the number of filings were up over the past 12 month, 2016 also marked a year where courts were reluctant to consolidate related suits into any new mass tort programs.

In February, the court rejected a request to consolidate litigation over the antibiotic Levaquin, and the following month, the court denied the plaintiff’s bid to establish a mass tort for numerous testosterone replacement therapy drugs. More than 100 plaintiffs with claims over the diabetes drug Invokana also sought mass tort status in 2016. The Invokana defendants, however, removed those cases to federal court, but the plaintiffs are still fighting to have their suits sent back to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

The latest court statistics also show that the mass tort cases were not disposed of as quickly in 2016 as they were in years prior.

According to the numbers, 39.4 percent of cases were disposed of within 20 to 25 months in 2016, compared with nearly 74 percent of the cases in 2015 being disposed of within that same time period. Singling out pharmaceutical cases, slightly more than 33 percent of them were disposed of within 20 to 25 months in 2016, while more than 86 percent were disposed of during that same time period in 2015.

Max Mitchell can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or mmitchell@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @MMitchellTLI.