Defendants Otsuka Pharmaceuticals and Bristol Meyer Squibb (BMS) have entered into a global settlement with 600 plaintiffs in multi-district litigation over alleged side effects of the neuroleptic medication Abilify (aripiprazole), prescribed for the treatment of bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia.

If 90% of the plaintiffs agree to the settlement, it will end the litigation that has been going on for nearly three years. The settlement, approved by U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rogers on February 26, applies to all cases pending as of January 28, 2019, and includes those being heard in New Jersey and California as well as other federal and state courts.

Otsuka and BMS settled with three plaintiffs in April 2018, whose cases had been selected for bellwether trials. The recent settlement is the result of several months of mediation that began last May. A previous attempt to reach a settlement in September ended in failure.

The present multidistrict litigation against Otsuka and BMS began in 2016, and involved plaintiffs from across the country. Plaintiffs claim that Abilify caused them to engage in uncontrollable, compulsive behaviors – notably, gambling. Many have claimed losses amounting to tens of thousands of dollars due to the side effects of Abilify.

Scientific studies have shown that the purported benefits of Abilify do not outweigh the risks of the side effects. There is also the matter of the fact that warnings about compulsive gambling were issued in the European Union and Canada several years before they were given to U.S. doctors and patients – suggesting that, in accordance with plaintiff allegations, the defendants were aware of the risks.

In a press statement, Otsuka and BMS said the settlement reflects their “desire to focus on the needs of patients and prescribers rather than on continued litigation.” The corporate defendants add that they “expressly disclaim any wrongdoing or liability.” The terms of the settlement have not been disclosed. Plaintiffs have until August 30th to decide whether or not to participate.

In a related story, Judge Casey Rodgers ruled against plaintiffs who sought sanctions over “spoliation of evidence” due to emails that had been deleted prior to 2007. According to the ruling, a defendant is obligated to preserve evidence for discovery only if “litigation is pending or reasonably foreseeable.” Judge Rodgers also rejected the argument that widespread news of defective drugs and dangerous side effects should have made Otsuka aware of possible legal action. She wrote, “Such an overly broad view of the duty of preservation” would unreasonably require every drug company to have to preserve all documents and communication records indefinitely.

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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.