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September 28, 2020

First PPI Heartburn Drug Lawsuits to be Chosen for 2021 Bellwether Trials

Manufacturers of PPI heartburn drugs like Nexium and Prilosec face over thousands of lawsuits nationwide over allegations that these medications cause severe side effects. Now, with over 13,000 lawsuits pending in the federal court system, a small group of representative PPI heartburn drug cases will soon be selected and scheduled for trial in 2021.

Over 15 million patients have been prescribed medications belonging to the class of heartburn medications called proton-pump inhibitors (PPI) to help treat a number of gastro-intestinal conditions. Even more patients may take PPI medications available over the counter (OTC), like Priolsec or Prevacid.

According to lawsuits, PPI heartburn drug manufacturers failed to warn consumers about the risk of kidney injury from taking medication like Nexium, Prilosec, or Prevacid, among others. Allegedly, these heartburn medications caused severe kidney problems like acute kidney injury, end-stage renal failure, and chronic kidney disease.

Other lawsuits filed against PPI heartburn drug manufacturers claim these medications caused bone fractures, infections, and heart attacks in patients. Additionally, a recent study found taking PPI heartburn drugs could increase users’ risk of contracting COVID-19, the virus that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands across the world.

Given the common questions of fact and law raised in these lawsuits, all federal PPI heartburn drug lawsuits were consolidated as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in order to avoid conflicting pretrial rulings. U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi presides over these cases in the District of New Jersey, working towards a resolution of the PPI heartburn drug MDL.

As part of the MDL, Judge Cecchi established a bellwether trial process. This process involves preparing a group of representative PPI heartburn drug claims for early trial dates to gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony repeatedly brought up in these claims.  

Judge Cecchi recently released a joint proposed case management order indicating parties will narrow down the bellwether pool to six cases by November 9, 2020. Then, these cases will go through expert discovery in preparation to go before juries in November of 2021.

“If the parties are unable to agree on which of the bellwether trial candidates should be selected for trial, the parties shall submit simultaneous letter briefs on November 9, 2020, setting forth their respective recommendations as to which cases the Court should select,” the proposal states. “The Court shall select the bellwether trial cases by November 20, 2020.”

According to the case order, the first bellwether trial is scheduled for November 15, 2021, with additional trials likely to continue in early 2022. While the results of these early trials do not bind the results of other PPI heartburn claims in the MDL, they will gauge how juries may respond to evidence and testimony brought up repeatedly in these claims.

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