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As Many As 25,000 Yaz Lawsuits to be Handled in Illinois

Attorneys Everywhere: As Many As 25,000 Contraceptive Lawsuits to be Handled in East St. Louis [Belleville News-Democrat, Ill.]

From Belleville News-Democrat (IL) (January 11, 2010)

Jan. 11--The federal courthouse in East St. Louis will see some extra lawyer traffic after a panel assigned lawsuits against a huge pharmaceutical company here.

U.S. District Chief Judge David Herndon will handle the pre-trial proceedings in lawsuits filed against Bayer Corp., makers of the contraceptive pill, Yaz.

The suits, which could number as many as 25,000, are filed all over the country but will be handled by Herndon as part of the largest multidistrict litigation ever assigned to the district.

Herndon will preside over discovery in those cases, he said, and may later conduct "bellwether" trials that will serve as examples for other trials around the country.

"These trials will serve as a guideline for other cases," Herndon said. "There will be a variety of dynamics which will be taken into account in the evaluation of cases."

The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in Washington, D.C., determines whether civil cases filed in different federal districts involving common facts should be transferred to one district to avoid duplication in fact-finding efforts and inconsistent pretrial rulings.

The panel is composed of seven federal judges who are appointed by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

When the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation handed the cases to Herndon in October, there were 40 or 50 cases filed in the district, the judge said.

The panel considers whether the forum is centrally located for all plaintiffs, whether the judge and court clerk has experience in handling multidistrict cases and the agreement of a majority of lawyers handling the cases when deciding where to send a multidistrict case, Herndon said.

Herndon handled a case against telephone company MCI that resulted in an $88 million settlement. Plaintiffs accused MCI of charging subscribers a higher rate for direct-dialed long distance calls.

The birth control pill Yaz combines ethinyl estradiol, an ingredient commonly used in oral contraceptives, and dropspirenone, a new type of progestin that is not used in other birth control pills in the country.

Plaintiffs allege that the drug, that goes under Yaz and Yasmin, causes women to suffer strokes, heart attacks, pulmonary embolism, thrombosis, cardiac arrhythmia, gallbladder disease, kidney failure and sudden death.

Bayer claims the drug is the only contraceptive that treats premenstrual dysphoric disorder, "a condition with emotional and physical premenstrual symptoms," such as anger, irritability, bloating, markedly depressed moods, muscle aches and headaches.

Bayer is in the process of gathering information on these cases, but the complaints we have reviewed so far pertain to side effects that are warned about in the labeling of all oral contraceptives, including ours. Bayer will defend itself vigorously against these lawsuits, according to a Bayer’s statement released to the News-Democrat on Saturday.

"Bayer’s oral contraceptives are safe and effective when used according to product labeling. Health care professionals prescribe oral contraceptives following a comprehensive evaluation of the risks and benefits for the individual woman," stated the release.

Herndon said Friday he hired a law clerk to help manage the cases. He said the clerk’s office will also hire a clerk to help with the increased caseload.

The Yaz case could spend more than two years on Herndon’s docket.

The three co-lead counsels in the case include Michael Burg, of Englewood, Colo., Michael London, of New York City, and Mark Niemeyer, of Webster Groves, Mo. Niemeyer is a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois.

Neimeyer and Roger Denton, liaison for plaintiff’s counsel, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at or 239-2570.

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Posted: January 2010