JPML Approves Consolidation of Lipitor Diabetes Lawsuits to SC Court

On Tuesday, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) approved a motion to consolidate all federally-filed lawsuits alleging a link between Lipitor and type 2 diabetes to the U.S. District Court District of South Carolina. In its order, the JPML found that the number of filed cases had greatly increased since it last denied centralization of the lawsuits in August 2013.

In the Lipitor multidistrict litigation (MDL), all federally-filed lawsuits, as well as those filed in the future, will be overseen by one judge, the Honorable Judge Richard M. Gergel. According to the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), 56 federal lawsuits have been filed alleging that Pfizer Inc.’s blockbuster cholesterol-lowering drug caused patients to develop Type 2 diabetes.

“Upon reevaluation, we find that a number of factors now tip the balance in favor of centralization,” the panel said. According to the JPML, the previous motion to consolidate the cases was denied because only five lawsuits had been filed at the time. Furthermore, the panel had said that the lawsuits did not warrant consolidation because almost half of the pending cases were filed in one district, and Pfizer had been willing to coordinate discovery and other pretrial proceedings for the remaining cases.

“[I]nformal coordination and cooperation are no longer practicable,” the panel said. “[T]he number of involved actions, districts, and judges has grown considerably,” making it “highly difficult, if not impossible, to coordinate this litigation effectively on any informal basis.”

While Pfizer argued against the formation of an MDL, the JPML said it was not persuaded by the manufacturer’s arguments. Pfizer said that by forming an MDL, it would spur an “avalanche of filings” attempting to coerce the company into a settlement. Specifically, the manufacturer believed that many “non-viable” cases would be filed where patients who had been diagnosed with diabetes prior to using Lipitor would blame their disease on the drug. Yet, the JPML disagreed, saying that if any of the actions lacked merit, centralization of the cases would still be to Pfizer’s benefit.

The Lipitor lawsuits allege that Pfizer knew its cholesterol-lowering drug had been linked to type 2 diabetes since at least 1996, yet failed to adequately warn the public of this risk. While the FDA intervened in 2011, asking Pfizer to include the risk of high blood sugar levels on Lipitor’s label, the plaintiffs claim that this warning still does not communicate the “serious risks” associated with use of Lipitor.