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Fentanyl Pain Patch Lawsuits Centralized in MDL


August 14, 2012 — The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has decided to centralize all wrongful death lawsuits involving Watson fentanyl pain patches into the Northern District of Illinois before U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly. There are currently 22 lawsuits in 15 federal courts that will be transferred to the Multidistrict Litigation (MDL).

The order was filed on August 7, 2012.

All of the complains are wrongful death actions filed by survivors of people who died after using a fentanyl patch. They all concern similar factual questions that allege defects with the design of the patch, manufacturing, and marketing. Specifically, the complaints argue that the reservoir of fentanyl in the patch is prone to leakage, which caused the plaintiff’s death by lethal overdose of fentanyl.

The panel decided not to include other fentanyl patch manufacturers in the MDL, because each group of cases against the various manufacturers involves a unique product, manufacturing processes, documents, witnesses, and more. These differences overwhelm the common issues, namely, that all of the plaintiffs died from fentanyl overdoses while using the patches.

The JPML chose the Northern District of Illinois because Judge Kennelly is currently presiding over a pending fentanyl patch lawsuit that is very advanced. Judge Kennelly has experience presiding over the long-pending litigation, and the JPML decided he “appears ideally situated to steer this litigation on a prudent course.”

The original fentanyl patch was the Duragesic pain patch manufactured by a subsidiary company of Johnson & Johnson. The device contained fentanyl, a narcotic that is significantly more powerful than morphine. The Duragesic is now available as a generic, and several other companies now manufacture their own pain patch products.

Many plaintiffs allege that Watson could have chosen a safer design that would have prevented the fentanyl from leaking. Instead, plaintiffs allege that they continued to use the reservoir design instead of the safer alternative because it was less expensive.

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