Since the passing of a recent deadline to reach a global settlement in nearly 1,700 Abilify lawsuits (up from the 22 cases originally consolidated in 2016), counsel for defendants Otsuka Pharmaceuticals and Bristol-Meyer Squibb (BSM) and those for the plaintiffs have been working overtime to prepare for the test cases that will now be going to trial in the coming months.

The defendants were able to settle with three plaintiffs in Florida earlier this year, which otherwise would have served as bellwether trials.  A few days later, U.S. Chief District Judge Margaret C. Rodgers gave lawyers until September 1st to reach a settlement with the remaining plaintiffs.

Now the deadline has passed and the two sides have failed to reach a settlement.  In anticipation of such a situation, the court began selecting potential bellwether cases last summer.  The process began in June with a pool of 100 cases.

As of last month, these had been narrowed to 40.  Attorneys for both sides now have until December to select 10 cases for trial.  Assuming the parties are unable to reach a settlement, these cases will go before a judge and jury sometime next year.

The cases currently centralized in the Northern District of Florida are not the only lawsuits pending against Otsuka and BMS.  In New Jersey this past May, forty-two Abilify lawsuits filed by plaintiffs residing in the Garden State were consolidated in multi-county litigation (which falls under state jurisdiction, as opposed to federal multi-district litigation).  Last month, seventeen additional Abilify lawsuits were consolidated in Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas.

Abilify (aripiprazole) was originally approved for the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  Since that time, however, it has been used to manage symptoms associated with clinical depression, tics, Tourette’s Syndrome, and autism-related irritability.

One serious side effect is neuroleptic malignant syndrome, a potentially deadly reaction to anti-psychotic prescription drugs that can manifest as high fever, seizures, hypertension, and damage to kidneys and muscle tissue.  Abilify patients are also known to experience tardive dyskinesia, and those with diabetes can see dramatic rises in glucose levels.

 

However,most plaintiffs allege that taking Abilify has robbed them of their self-control, causing them to engage in compulsive, self-destructive behaviors that include problem gambling, shopping, and sexual behaviors.

According to the complaints, drug maker Otsuka and its U.S. marketing partner, BSM, were aware of these issues and deliberately failed to warn U.S. doctors and their patients (warnings were issued in the European Union and Canada several months earlier).

Should the bellwether cases in Florida go to trial, the outcomes will determine whether other plaintiffs will move forward with their cases or the defendants will finally agree to settle.

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.