Power Morcellator Lawsuits May Be Centralized
This past June, some of the plaintiffs who filed power morcellator lawsuits filed a motion to centralize the cases into multidistrict litigation (MDL). The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) is expected to hear oral arguments pertaining to this issue on October 1, 2015. Currently, at least 21 lawsuits in 16 different U.S. District Courts are pending against the manufacturers of power morcellators. They claim that the devices are unreasonably dangerous because there is the potential to spread cancerous cells well beyond their point of origin, causing a rapid acceleration in cancer staging.
The plaintiffs demand compensation for the alleged failure of the defendants to provide adequate warning with regard to the life-threatening risks of power morcellation.
Manufacturers oppose centralization of morcellator lawsuits
The purpose of creating an MDL is to consolidate similar litigation filed against particular defendants. This streamlines the litigation process and ensures uniform application of pre-trial matters such as discovery and rulings. It also conserves financial resources for all involved parties.
The manufacturers named as defendants in the power morcellator lawsuits have opposed the motion to centralize the complaints. The defendants argue that the number of power morcellator lawsuits is too low to justify the creation of an MDL and that the lawsuits involve varied products by different manufacturers. Most of the power morcellators sold in the U.S. were designed and manufactured by Ethicon, a division of Johnson & Johnson.
Johnson & Johnson also opposes the establishment of a single MDL and the possibility of a separate MDL for each manufacturer.
It is possible that more lawsuits will be filed against power morcellator manufacturers in the coming months and years. If the JPML does decide to centralize and consolidate morcellator cancer lawsuits, the newly filed complaints might be directly entered into the MDL. The parties would proceed with pre-trial matters such as depositions and evidentiary exchange.
Following discovery, a handful of cases would be selected to serve as bellwether cases. These cases would be the first in the MDL to go to trial. They allow the parties to assess the responses of jurors to certain evidence and witness testimony. At any time during the discovery process or bellwether trials, the parties may agree to settlement deals. Otherwise, any remaining cases would be remanded back to their home districts for trial.
Latest study to evaluate morcellation and cancer risks
During the trials, it is expected that the counsel for the plaintiffs would call expert witnesses to testify. These experts may discuss various clinical studies that evaluated the safety profile of power morcellation. One of the latest studies was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in August 2015. The researchers compared the rates of women undergoing laparoscopic hysterectomies and myomectomies involving morcellation before and after the FDA issued a safety communication regarding the potential risks of power morcellation. That notice was issued in April 2014.
The researchers determined that there was a 4.1 percent decline in the rate of surgeries performed with power morcellation during the eight months following the release of the safety communication. The researchers also determined that any increase in the rate of complications due to the increase of open surgeries was not statistically significant.
- JPML, Notice of Hearing Session, http://www.jpml.uscourts.gov/sites/jpml/files/Hearing_Order-10-1-15.pdf
- FDA, Laparoscopic Uterine Power Morcellation in Hysterectomy and Myomectomy: FDA Safety Communication, http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/Safety/AlertsandNotices/ucm393576.htm