August 14, 2012 — Current and future Watson fentanyl pain patch lawsuits will be centralized in the Northern District of Illinois before U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly, according to an order filed on August 7 by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML).
The order will transfer 22 lawsuits pending in 15 different courts into one centralized Multidistrict Litigation (MDL).
The JPML decided to transfer the cases because they all allege common questions of fact and accusations against Watson Pharmaceuticals. The wrongful death lawsuits allege that there were defects with the patch that allowed fentanyl to leak, where it was absorbed by the skin and caused a lethal overdose.
Fentanyl is a narcotic painkiller that is 100-times more powerful than morphine. The pain patches were designed to deliver hours of pain relief by slowly releasing fentanyl. Instead, some of the products ruptured, releasing dangerously high doses of fentanyl.
The JPML denied Watson’s request to involve other manufacturers in the MDL. They decided that other fentanyl patches have unique designs, manufacturing processes, documents, witnesses, and other differences that overwhelm one common matter of fact — that the devices could leak fentanyl and cause a deadly overdose.
The panel also denied Watson’s requests for other courts, and chose Judge Kennelly because he is already presiding over a very advanced lawsuit involving the Watson fentanyl patch. They said that Judge Kennelly has experience presiding over the relatively long-pending litigation, which therefore makes him “ideally suited to steer this litigation on a prudent course.”
Johnson & Johnson was the original manufacturer of the fentanyl patch, a product called the Duragesic pain patch. This device is now generic and there are several other manufacturers who produce these products.
Several plaintiffs allege that Watson knew that there were superior, safer designs for the fentanyl reservoir, but instead chose to continue using a defective design to reduce costs.