Could Seroquel liability suits be a bust?

No surprise that the legal community is closely watching AstraZeneca's ongoing defense in Seroquel product-liability suits. After all, the pharma biz keeps plenty of lawyers in full employment, between torts and patents and regulatory matters. So it's also no surprise that, when Litigation Daily proclaimed the Seroquel troubles a "mass tort that wasn't," plaintiff's lawyers came out of the woodwork to protest.

Here's the deal: Monday, the legal pub examined the litigation over Seroquel, the AstraZeneca antipsychotic that's been accused of triggering diabetes in thousands of patients--and thousands of lawsuits. So far, the cases that have come up in Delaware and Florida have been tossed--one, two, three, four--by judges unconvinced by the evidence. In granting the most recent summary judgment to AstraZeneca, Delaware judge Joseph Slights mused, "The court is left to wonder what is to become of its docket of more than 700 Seroquel cases." In every Seroquel case to proceed to summary judgment, he noted, a judge has struck down the plaintiff's expert testimony, making them unable to causally link the drug and diabetes.

Just one cotton-pickin' minute, a plaintiff's lawyer responded to that story. Just look at the numbers, attorney Paul Pennock said. About 20,000 Seroquel patients have sued AZ over their diabetes. Only 700 of those are pending in Delaware, where the skeptical judge presides. About 13,000 cases are moving forward in New York and New Jersey, where Pennock believes the law is more favorable to the plaintiffs. "This [litigation] is not just alive and kicking," Pennock told the Daily. "It's about to go into full sprint in district courts around the country."

AstraZeneca, however, prefers the first interpretation: "In the cases prepared for trial to date, plaintiffs have been repeatedly unable to prove their claims in court," spokesman Tony Jewell said in a statement. "The evidence--looked at fully and fairly--does not back up the allegations that Seroquel was responsible for the plaintiffs' alleged injuries." We'll have to wait and see whether Pennock has a point; the first NJ trial is scheduled for January 2010.

- read the first Litigation Daily story
- check out the follow-up