Settlements in Yaz litigation continue, mediator is 'cautiously optimistic' that end is in sight

Bethany Krajelis Jul. 5, 2012, 7:40am



About 1,500 of the 9,000-plus lawsuits filed in federal court in East St. Louis over the oral contraceptives Yasmin and Yaz have been settled, said Chief U.S. District Judge David Herndon.

Herndon has presided over the litigation against Bayer drug companies since the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation appointed him to handle the matter more than two years ago. Since then, Herndon said cases "have been settling at a consistent rate."

Plaintiffs from across the nation claim that the Yasmin-line of birth control pills cause heart attacks, strokes, embolisms, clots and other diseases. The federal lawsuits also claim that drug manufacturers failed to adequately research their products and concealed the risks of the drugs to users.

The lawsuits being heard in Illinois, dozens of which were originally filed in Madison and St. Clair counties, have given Herndon an assignment that he said is about equal to the entire caseload of all of the federal judges in the Northern District.

Despite the high volume of cases, Herndon said "we'll get these cases resolved in some period of time here soon."

Stephen Saltzburg, a professor at the George Washington University Law School, agreed.

He serves as special master in the multi-district litigation, a role that requires him to help the parties mediate.

"So far, so good," he said of the status of the litigation. "I am cautiously optimistic that we will settle all of these cases. There are always some holdouts, but I think we will settle the bulk of these cases in the next year."

He said Herndon asked him earlier this year to do what he did for the Florida court that handled litigation against AstraZeneca over the side effects of the drug Seroquel. In that matter, Saltzburg said he assisted in the resolution of about 28,000 claims over the course of about a year.

As someone who is familiar with the process of mediating settlements in pharmaceutical liability litigation, Saltzburg said Herndon's leadership has been "absolutely essential in this case."

Rather than conduct so-called "bellwether trials," or trials used to streamline mass litigation by providing a range of settlements, Saltzburg said Herndon put the case on the mediation track. While some lawyers weren't sure how it would work out in such a contentious case, Saltzburg said "it's working like a dream."

Since February of this year, he said "we've managed to settle almost 1,500 cases" and

"Bayer has agreed to pay out more than $300 million so far."

While at least 9,000 cases have been filed in the East St. Louis federal court so far, Saltzburg said it's unclear exactly how many cases there will be at the end of the litigation. He said more cases could be filed and other claims could get settled before they actually get filed.

"When word gets out that they are getting settled for substantial amounts of money, sometimes that encourages more," he said.

Out of the 1,500 cases that both sides have agreed to settle, Saltzburg said the average settlement comes to about $214,000. Not everyone, however, will receive that amount, he said, explaining that some of the more serious claims may get more while others might get less.

The majority of the cases that have reached the settlement stage deal with claims involving deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism injuries, Saltzburg said.

"The ones that are settling are the most serious cases," he said, adding that many more claims, which deal with injuries of varying degrees of seriousness, remain.

"I believe the rest will go fairly quickly," he said. "It's speeding up as the lawyers are getting word out there as to what cases have settled for. And that's a good thing because it means that cases will settle faster. It's not certain, but it's likely."

Saltzburg, who also serves as special master in Yasmin-related litigation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said "everyone wants their cases settled" and believes the judges who appointed him to mediate the litigation "are very happy that these cases are settling in the way they are settling."

Chicago lawyer Adam Hoeflich, the lead counsel for Bayer in the multi-district litigation in Illinois, as well as several plaintiffs' lawyers in the matter, could not be reached for comment today.

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