Chantix Multidistrict Litigation Moving Toward Bellwether Trials

Richard Burke | August 1st, 2011

On July 2, 2009, a group of plaintiffs affected by Chantix psychological side effects—including Chantix suicide—filed a motion to consolidate Chantix lawsuits before one federal judge in Chantix multidistrict litigation. In October of that same year, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered Chantix cases consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama before District Judge Inge P. Johnson.

At that time, 34 cases were involved. In January of 2011, more than 1,200 plaintiffs had become part of Chantix multidistrict litigation, with more expected to have joined since then. How then is the MDL proceeding, and how will it affect future lawsuits regarding Chantix heart problems?

Chantix suicide the focus of most MDL cases

All these Chantix lawsuits were consolidated in the first place because of their similarities. The most commonly cited side effects involve behavioral changes and psychological issues such as depression, suicidal thoughts, aggressiveness, Chantix suicide attempt, and actual Chantix suicide. All cases allege that manufacturer Pfizer failed to adequately warn consumers and healthcare professionals about serious Chantix side effects. In fact, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices recently published an analysis showing that manufacturer Pfizer did not properly inform the FDA of more than 150 suicides as a result of Chantix, a finding that could support the plaintiff’s complaints in Chantix multidistrict litigation.

Chantix multidistrict litigation selecting bellwether plaintiffs

In addition to proceeding on disclosures and depositions of expert witnesses, Chantix multidistrict litigation is now in the process of selecting bellwether plaintiffs for discovery and trial. These cases will likely set precedents for other Chantix lawsuits to follow.

The plaintiff’s counsel and Pfizer’s counsel were ordered to choose 14 plaintiffs for the initial pool of eligible cases, selecting from two groups: cases involving allegations of Chantix suicide or Chantix suicide attempt, and all other cases alleging neuropsychiatric injury. More specifically, each side was to choose 4 cases alleging suicide, three alleging attempted suicide, and seven alleging other neuropsychiatric effects. These selections were to have been completed by June 1, 2011.

On February 29, 2012, both parties have been ordered to provide the court with a summary of their cases, which the court will then consider. On March 15, the court is scheduled to select 8 individual plaintiffs to be eligible for trial—4 Chantix suicide/Chantix suicide attempt cases, and 4 other neuropsychiatric cases. After that, the court will select two of each to be the first bellwether cases. The first trial is expected to take place on October 22, 2012.

Lawsuits filed over Chantix heart problems

Though these first few trials deal solely with Chantix psychological side effects, they aren’t the only side effects disputed in Chantix lawsuits. A June 2011 FDA warning about heart problems caused by Chantix provided support to those who took the smoking cessation drug and experienced a heart attack or stroke, and have now filed a Chantix lawsuit. Plaintiffs alleging Chantix heart problems are watching Chantix multidistrict litigation for clues as to how their cases may proceed, particularly concerning awards for medical expenses and possible settlements. The bellwether trials scheduled for the fall of 2012 will likely shed more light on the potential for future Chantix lawsuits regarding Chantix heart problems.