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Yaz Lawsuit Settlements, Trials

It was New Year’s Day 2012, just nine days before Yaz multidistrict litigation (MDL) trials were slated to begin. For thousands, the year would begin with a bang, as they awoke to startling news: the first bellwether Yaz trial had been postponed in favor of mediation. Contrary to previous statements, Judge David Herndon had filed an order on December 31, 2011 to appoint a special master to negotiate Yaz settlements.

Defendant Bayer AG would have the chance to avoid lengthy trials – but it wouldn’t come cheap. In fact, Yaz and Yasmin settlements have already tipped the scales at over $1 billion, and less than half of the MDL’s more than 10,000 plaintiffs have reportedly settled. The average Yaz settlement is nearly $210,000 for plaintiffs alleging blood clots, pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), stroke and heart attack. Yaz lawsuits involving gallbladder problems have also reached a settlement amount, capped at $24 million.

The bellwether Yaz trial that never happened

Yaz courthouseIn 2009, the U.S. Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated 32 federal lawsuits into multidistrict litigation, known as the Yasmin and Yaz MDL No. 2100. The MDL was established in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. By January 2012, when the first Yaz trial was scheduled to begin, the MDL had grown to more than 10,000 cases – and counting.

Judge Herndon had scheduled the first bellwether trial for January 9, 2012. The case – Kerry Sims v. Bayer Corporation – involved Kerry Sims, a young woman who was diagnosed with acute left-sided pulmonary embolism on July 18, 2008. Sims alleged that her pulmonary embolism was the fault of her birth control pills, which have been linked to blood clots and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – precursors for pulmonary embolism.

Though multidistrict litigation centralizes similar lawsuits into one court, plaintiffs retain their individual rights to trial and settlement. A bellwether trial, therefore, does not have any direct effect on other lawsuits in the MDL. Instead, these first cases set the tone for the Yaz litigation, especially if they conclude in favor of the plaintiff. Judge Herndon had scheduled nine bellwether trials for the Yaz MDL.

Judge Herndon postpones MDL, opts for mediation

On December 31, 2011, Judge Herndon filed an order postponing Kerry Sims v. Bayer Corporation in favor of mediation. Previously, the federal judge had stated that he would not encourage Yasmin and Yaz lawsuit settlements until after the first bellwether trials had concluded. However, Bayer, clearly hoping to avoid trial and proceed directly to settlements, protested that the bellwether trials would not provide insight or guidance into the validity of Yaz lawsuit claims. In his mediation order, Judge Herndon indicated that settlement negotiations would “better serve” the plaintiffs.

Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University, was appointed as special master of mediation. Saltzburg is an excellent choice given his past experience; he was responsible for mediating more than 28,000 Seroquel cases – to the tune of $647 million.

Saltzburg has been praised for his hard work, morality and fairness. According to lawyer Michael Kelly, who was involved in the Seroquel litigation, Saltzburg is, “a smart and hardworking individual who doesn’t just push to settle cases at any price… [he] has a strong sense of right and wrong and he works to come up with a fair valuation on the cases that everyone can live with.” After his lauded success with Seroquel’s AstroZenec, he seemed a good choice for Yaz lawsuit settlements and negotiations – for both Bayer and the plaintiffs.

Experts estimated that Bayer’s financial responsibility in Yaz and Yasmin settlements could eclipse even that of the Seroquel litigation.

Bayer reserves $1+ billion for Yaz lawsuit settlements

Bayer’s 2012 Annual Statement, which was released in February 2013, informed stockholders that the pharmaceutical giant had committed to more than $1 billion in Yaz and Yasmin settlements. These settlement funds were destined to resolve approximately 4,800 of the 10,000+ pending Yaz trial complaints, for an average of more than $208,000 per plaintiff.

In 2010 alone, Bayer reported $1.58 billion in sales for their contraceptives. These numbers make Yaz and Yasmin two of the company’s top-selling drugs, sliding into second place behind Betaseron, Bayer’s blockbuster multiple sclerosis medication. Yet despite huge sales, Yaz trial litigation has impacted the company’s bottom line: In 2011, Bayer’s share prices dropped by nearly 4 percent. The $1 billion settlement amount is triple the company’s reserves for 2010 and 2011.

The $1 billion applies only to cases involving allegations of Yaz blood clots, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, heart attack and stroke. Notably, these Yaz lawsuit settlements do not involve plaintiffs alleging venous or arterial thromboembolism injuries. Additionally, cases involving gallbladder disease and injuries were not included in the $1 billion settlement amount.

Bayer commits $24 million to resolving Yaz gallbladder lawsuits

Though Bayer resisted Yaz lawsuit settlements for gallbladder problems – primarily gallbladder disease – the company eventually agreed to settle in March 2013. Qualifying lawsuits must have been filed and served before March 25, 2013. The company will pay $2,000 to women who suffered gallbladder injury, and will increase the amount to $3,000 for women who were forced to have their gallbladders removed. Bayer has capped gallbladder settlements at $24 million.

Plaintiffs allege that Bayer knew or should have known of gallbladder risks associated with drospirenone, the fourth-generation progestin in Yasmin and Yaz, but failed to warn the medical community or public of these dangers. However, throughout trial preparations, it has been difficult for these plaintiffs to establish hard proof that drospirenone is to blame for gallbladder problems. The settlement offers the only sure route to compensation for Yaz gallbladder injury.