1 out of every 20 people in the developed world now takes proton pump inhibitors, wildly-popular heartburn drugs like Nexium and Prilosec. Soon, legal experts believe that hundreds, if not thousands, of these patients, will file lawsuits.
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Proton pump inhibitors have been associated with an increased risk for serious kidney disorders – but none of the companies behind these blockbuster medications have issued a warning yet.
For many observers, that’s a major problem. In two recent studies, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Department have identified troubling new risks, including:
But some experts say these potential dangers could have been predicted much earlier. In 2011, the US Food & Drug Administration warned us about a link between Nexium, Prilosec and other proton pump inhibitors and acute kidney injuries, often dangerous cases of renal inflammation. As the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain notes, delayed diagnosis of an acute kidney injury “could lead to chronic kidney failure and more serious consequences.” Now, patients are asking why drug manufacturers didn’t warn them of this risk, which they believe should have been foreseen.
While several patients have already filed Nexium lawsuits over kidney failure, members of the legal community say the proton pump inhibitor litigation has only just begun. Thousands of patients may ultimately be eligible to pursue legal action, they claim, with many more to step forward in the coming months.
When hundreds or thousands of patients file similar lawsuits, the next step is often a process called Multidistrict Litigation (MDL). This usually comes into play after numerous plaintiffs have filed suit, but have done so in a number of separate federal courts.
Rather than have each plaintiff work independently, a panel of federal judges can decide to have all the lawsuits sent to a central court. After being transferred, the lawsuits will progress through pre-trial proceedings (like discovery, in which evidence is gathered) together, sharing information and devising legal arguments in common.
MDL is a way of adding some much-needed efficiency to the process of mass litigation, but it often has another effect.
After discovery is complete, and the cases are ready to go to trial, the MDL judge will often select a group of lawsuits for an initial slate of court trials. These “bellwether trials” are real trials, and have binding consequences for the specific plaintiffs involved, but also act as something of a trial run.
For other plaintiffs, and of course the defendant, bellwether trials are a crucial gauge of how well their arguments and evidence play out in court. In many cases, settlements come shortly after that.
After a series of bellwether losses, many corporate defendants decide that taking each and every plaintiff to court just isn’t worth it. Litigation can be costly, even for the largest companies. It also leads to bad press, as the public becomes increasingly aware of allegations of wrongdoing. Settling the cases outright may be a more appropriate option.
Settlement agreements are negotiations. Lawyers from both sides of the dispute will gather together to figure out an adequate amount of money, taking major cues from the clients they represent.
There’s no guarantee that any of this will happen for the proton pump inhibitor litigation, but it is a possibility.
Continue Reading: Nexium Linked To Serious Side Effects