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Top Drug and Device Lawsuits of 2020

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Gavel and scale on wooden desk

Several drug and device litigations ballooned in 2020. Some, including Zantac lawsuits, were affected by the year’s major recalls. Others, such as Juul e-cigarette cases, experienced as much as an eightfold increase over the course of the year. 

A total of 33 multidistrict litigations closed in 2020, about 10 fewer than had ended in 2019. Meanwhile, 178 litigations — comprising 330,816 pending cases — remained open as the year came to an end.

For comparison, in December 2019, only 132,380 cases were pending in 189 litigations — almost 200,000 fewer cases than in 2020. 

We’ve compiled a list of some of the year’s top court cases. Plaintiffs filed lawsuits claiming injuries from vision loss to cancer.

Elmiron and Vision Problems

In 2020, more people filed lawsuits against Janssen Pharmaceuticals claiming the company’s interstitial cystitis drug Elmiron (pentosan polysulfate sodium) caused vision damage and vision loss. 

Janssen added a warning for retinal pigmentary maculopathy to the drug’s label in June 2020. The drug has been on the market since the late 1990s. 

Trial attorney Trent B. Miracle with Simmons Hanley Conroy told Drugwatch he expects hundreds more people to file Elmiron lawsuits

Hernia Mesh and Complications

Hernia mesh lawsuits against Bard, Ethicon and Atrium more than doubled in 2020. In December 2019, the three hernia mesh manufacturers faced 7,803 federal lawsuits. One year later, the total number of cases pending in multidistrict litigations had skyrocketed to 15,800.

Lawsuits claim mesh caused complications such as pain, infections, hernia recurrence, bowel obstruction and organ perforation. 

Trials were originally scheduled in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic postponed these trials. If the schedules go as planned, the first bellwether trials against each company will start in January 2021. 

Related Article

Juul E-Cigs, Seizures and Lung Disease

As of Dec. 15, 2020, more than 1,400 Juul lawsuits from around the U.S. had been combined in a multidistrict litigation in New Jersey. When the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation established the MDL in October 2019, there were only 10 actions. 

Plaintiffs claim Juul used misleading marketing to addict users, mostly minors, and failed to warn that vaping could lead to seizures, serious lung injuries and strokes. Juul denies the allegations that it targeted minors and intends to fight the lawsuits. 

So far, there have been no trials, and litigation is in early stages. 

Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

Talcum powder lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson made up the second-largest multidistrict litigation for the second consecutive year. As of Dec. 15, 2020, Johnson & Johnson faced more than 24,700 federal lawsuits claiming its talc products such as Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower caused ovarian cancer

In October 2020, the health care giant offered $100 million to settle 1,000 claims, according to Bloomberg. Experts say that the company’s decisions to recall 33,000 bottles of its baby powder in October 2019 and stop selling talc-based baby powder in the U.S. in May 2020 could strengthen plaintiffs’ cases and potentially pave the way for more settlements. 

In November 2020, the Missouri Supreme Court refused to overturn a $4.69 billion verdict awarded to women with ovarian cancer, though the court reduced it to $2.1 billion, according to Reuters.

J&J said it would set aside the money, though it plans to appeal the verdict to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Related Article

Zantac and Cancer

In February 2020, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation centralized Zantac lawsuits in a federal court in Florida. As of Dec. 15, 2020, there were 553 lawsuits pending in the multidistrict litigation. 

In the wake of Zantac recalls and a market withdrawal in April 2020, people have filed lawsuits claiming the drug caused a wide variety of cancers

Lawsuits claim ranitidine, the drug’s active ingredient, is unstable and can form high levels of the potential carcinogen N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) when exposed to certain conditions in the body.

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Michelle Llamas, Senior Content Writer
Written By Michelle Llamas Senior Writer

Michelle Llamas has been writing articles and producing podcasts about drugs, medical devices and the FDA for nearly a decade. She focuses on various medical conditions, health policy, COVID-19, LGBTQ health, mental health and women’s health issues. Michelle collaborates with experts, including board-certified doctors, patients and advocates, to provide trusted health information to the public. Some of her qualifications include:

  • Member of American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and former Engage Committee and Membership Committee member
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Health Literacy certificates
  • Original works published or cited in The Lancet, British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and the Journal for Palliative Medicine
Edited By

6 Cited Research Articles

Drugwatch.com writers follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, court records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and interviews with qualified experts. Review our editorial policy to learn more about our process for producing accurate, current and balanced content.

  1. Feeley, J. (2020, October 5). J&J to Pay More Than $100 Million to End Over 1,000 Talc Suits. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-05/j-j-to-pay-more-than-100-million-to-end-over-1-000-talc-suits
  2. Food and Drug Administration. (2020, April 16). FDA Updates and Press Announcements on NDMA in Zantac (ranitidine). Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-updates-and-press-announcements-ndma-zantac-ranitidine
  3. Johnson & Johnson. (2020, May 19). Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health Announces Discontinuation of Talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in U.S. and Canada. Retrieved from https://www.jnj.com/our-company/johnson-johnson-consumer-health-announces-discontinuation-of-talc-based-johnsons-baby-powder-in-u-s-and-canada
  4. Stempel, J. (2020, November 3). Johnson & Johnson fails to overturn $2.12 billion baby powder verdict, plans Supreme Court appeal. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-johnson-johnson-talc-ruling/johnson-johnson-fails-to-overturn-2-12-billion-baby-powder-verdict-plans-supreme-court-appeal-idUSKBN27J2N4
  5. United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. (2020, November 16). MDL Statistics Report - Distribution of Pending MDL Dockets by District. Retrieved from https://www.jpml.uscourts.gov/sites/jpml/files/Pending_MDL_Dockets_By_District-November-16-2020.pdf
  6. Vora, R.A., Patel, A.P. & Melles, R. (2020, January). Prevalence of Maculopathy Associated with Long-Term Pentosan Polysulfate Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.aaojournal.org/article/S0161-6420(20)30040-3/abstract
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