Currently, Xeljanz lawsuits are neither mass tort claims nor class actions. Instead, they are being filed against Xeljanz’s manufacturer, Pfizer, individually by hundreds of victims across the country for the side effects of Xeljanz. The lawsuits seek compensation for losses sustained by victims who took Xeljanz and suffered:
- Malignant tumors, or cancer,
- Liver damage, or
- Blood clots in their lungs, including those that caused a pulmonary embolism.
There are no multi-district litigations (MDLs) or class actions for Xeljanz lawsuits as of 2023. However, it seems likely that the individual claims will consolidate into one of these types of lawsuits in the future. The defective drug lawyers at the Shouse Law Office are legally representing victims who file Xeljanz lawsuits, helping them pursue their rights before the statute of limitations expires. In this article, they discuss:
- 1. What are Xeljanz lawsuits?
- 2. What is the difference between a class action and a mass tort claim?
- 3. The future of Xeljanz lawsuits
1. What are Xeljanz lawsuits?
Xeljanz lawsuits are legal claims against Pfizer. They seek compensation for the side effects of the popular rheumatoid arthritis pill, Xeljanz. In particular, Xeljanz has been found to carry increased risks for:
- Various types of cancer,
- Liver damage, especially when taken with methotrexate and alcohol,
- Blood clots in the lungs, and
- Pulmonary embolism.
Many of these side effects can be fatal.
Nevertheless, the warning label for Xeljanz barely mentions these risks of taking the drug.1
People who have taken Xeljanz and suffered one of the severe side effects have filed lawsuits against Pfizer, claiming that the pharmaceutical company failed to adequately warn them of the dangers. It was only in July of 2019 that the FDA required Pfizer to put a black box warning on the drugs.
Pharmaceutical companies have a legal duty to make reasonable discloses of the risks of taking their products. Doctors rely on these disclosures when they prescribe medication for their patients. Meanwhile, patients rely on the information in these disclosures to make an informed health decision and weigh the benefits of the drug against the potential side effects they could suffer. However, disclosing risks can cut into the drug company’s profits, so they often try to avoid their duty to disclose.
The Xeljanz lawsuits argue that Pfizer’s lack of disclosure about these side effects amounted to a breach of their legal duty to warn people. The lawsuits demand punitive damages be assessed against Pfizer in addition to compensation to cover a victim’s:
- Medical care,
- Lost wages and other professional setbacks,
- Pain and suffering, and
- Loss of companionship felt by the victim’s family.
Currently, each victim’s lawsuit is moving its own way through the court system. However, it seems likely that a class action will be formed or the court system will create a multidistrict litigation, or MDL, to consolidate the lawsuits.
2. What is the difference between a class action and a mass tort claim?
Class actions and mass tort claims are tools that the court system uses to combine huge numbers of similar lawsuits and make the process more efficient for everyone.
Both are used in situations where hundreds or even thousands of victims have been hurt in similar ways by the same course of conduct done by the same defendant. However, there are important details that make class actions different from mass tort claims, which often proceed in multidistrict litigation.
2.1 Class actions
Class actions are civil lawsuits brought by one victim on behalf of other victims who are similarly situated.
The original victim, now the lead plaintiff, is supposed to represent the class of other victims. Depending on the nature of the lawsuit, other victims can opt-in to join the class action, or can opt-out of the class action to pursue their own rights and interests.
- Class actions combine all of the victims into one lawsuit for the entire duration of that lawsuit,
- Class actions have the initial burden of certifying the class by proving there are enough victims to warrant the class, each victim’s plight presents the same legal issue, and the lead plaintiff is both a representative model of the class and can represent the interests of the others in the class, and
- A victory by the class leads to compensation for everyone in it, while a lost class action leads to no compensation for anyone in it.
2.2 Mass tort claims and MDLs
Mass tort claims, on the other hand, often get consolidated into a multidistrict litigation, or an MDL. MDLs are hordes of individual, but very similar, lawsuits against a defendant that have been temporarily packaged together by the justice system into a single federal district court for pretrial procedures, including:
- Evidence gathering,
- Deposition of key witnesses and experts,
- Motions to dismiss,
- Evidentiary motions, and
- Summary judgment motions.
By combining all of these individual cases together for these stages of the lawsuit, plaintiffs can share evidence, the defendant can drastically cut down the time and costs of defending the claims, and the court system avoids a huge amount of redundancy.
Once these pretrial procedures are finished, MDLs are supposed to send the individual cases back to the courts where they were originally filed. However, increasingly MDLs have been pulling representative bellwether cases from the lawsuits included in the MDL. These bellwether cases then proceed all the way through jury trial. The results of the bellwether cases play a huge influence on the ongoing settlement discussions for the remaining cases in the MDL.
Courts are increasingly relying on multidistrict litigation over class actions to resolve mass tort claims involving lots of victims who were hurt by the same course of conduct.
3. The future of Xeljanz lawsuits
So far, all of the lawsuits against Pfizer for the side effects of Xeljanz have been filed individually. No one has filed a class-action lawsuit, yet, and the court system has not yet formed an MDL to consolidate the lawsuits.
However, because there are hundreds or potentially thousands of victims who have suffered similar injuries because of Pfizer’s failure to warn about the dangers of taking Xeljanz, it seems likely that a class action or an MDL is in the future.
- Xeljanz Warning Label (May 2018); Allison Prang, “FDA Requires Box Warnings for Pfizer Drug Xeljanz Patients taking 10-milligram dose twice a day could experience a higher risk of blood clots or death,” Wall Street Journal (July 26, 2019). See also Steven R. Ytterberg, et al, Cardiovascular and Cancer Risk with Tofacitinib in Rheumatoid Arthritis, New England Journal of Medicine (January 27, 2022).