A California state court judge will allow a Zantac lawsuit to proceed to trial on July 24, 2023. Plaintiff James Goetz of Redondo Beach, California alleges Zantac (ranitidine) caused his bladder cancer, and that Zantac manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) failed to warn of the cancer risk.
Yesterday, the Honorable Judge Evelio M. Grillo issued a 63-page order in James Goetz v. GlaxoSmithKline (Case No. RG20061705) affirming that nearly all of Mr. Goetz’s expert witnesses will be allowed to testify at trial, a decision that signals significant litigation on the horizon for GSK. Mr. Goetz’s case is one of thousands, and with the order, these cases now have a way forward.
Attorneys R. Brent Wisner (Wisner Baum) and Jennifer A. Moore (Moore Law Group) represent Mr. Goetz and will serve as co-lead counsel at the upcoming trial.
“We are pleased but not surprised that Judge Grillo has denied GSK’s bid to evade responsibility for the harm they have caused Mr. Goetz and countless others diagnosed with cancer after taking Zantac,” says Wisner Baum managing partner and senior trial attorney R. Brent Wisner. “As we approach the three-year anniversary of the FDA ordering the recall of Zantac for containing a known carcinogen, the California court order validates what we have been saying for years—that the evidence needs to be shown to a jury.”
Attorney Jennifer A. Moore responded to yesterday’s order with “our client will now have his day in court, and we look forward to sharing the evidence with the jury that GSK has known for decades that Zantac contains staggering amounts of a proven carcinogen.”
Wisner and co-counsel Jennifer Moore will try the Goetz case before the same court where Wisner previously won a $2 billion verdict against Monsanto (now Bayer) over allegations that its Roundup weed killer product causes cancer. Moore also led a case in that litigation, earning an $80 million jury verdict.
Judge Grillo’s ruling differs from a 2022 decision from a judge in Florida to toss cases against Zantac manufacturers consolidated in a multidistrict litigation (MDL). In his order, Judge Grillo indicated that California state court “does not find the MDL order dispositive.”
Before Mr. Goetz’s case could go before a jury, Judge Grillo held Sargon hearings, which allow the attorneys for both sides of a legal dispute to present their experts and educate the court on the science underpinning their legal arguments. Sargon is the name of a California Supreme Court case (Sargon Enterprises, Inc. v. University of Southern Cal., 2012, 55 Cal.4th 747) that encourages California trial courts to act as a gatekeeper to decide what scientific evidence will be admissible or precluded from trial.
After several days of hearings, Judge Grillo issued an order that decided which of the experts provided a reasonable basis for their scientific opinion, and whether each expert’s opinion was based on “sound logic.” If the experts passed muster, they would be permitted to provide testimony in open court and the case could proceed to trial. The defense challenged 10 out of the plaintiff’s 14 experts. In the order, Judge Grillo ruled that only one expert did not pass muster, so 13 out of 14 experts will be permitted to testify at trial.
Plaintiff’s experts will weigh in on whether the ranitidine molecule degrades into a carcinogen called N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) outside the body, whether ranitidine use creates NDMA inside the body, whether the drug is capable of causing bladder cancer, and whether Mr. Goetz consumed enough ranitidine to cause his cancer, among other issues.
Mr. Goetz’s case is one of roughly 5,000 others consolidated before Judge Grillo in the Ranitidine Product Cases JCCP 5150. The other cases involve individuals who took Zantac for years and developed bladder, breast, colorectal, esophageal, liver, lung, pancreatic, prostate, or stomach cancers. With Judge Grillo’s order in Goetz, cases involving other types of cancer will also move forward.
A JCCP (Judicial Council Coordination Proceedings) is consolidated litigation that involves numerous complex cases stemming from a common issue of fact or law. JCCPs allow for consolidated pre-trial discovery, motions, and the first “bellwether” trials to take place before one presiding judge. In a JCCP, it is not practical to prepare every case for trial, so several cases are selected as bellwether cases and prepared for trial. Bellwether cases are either settled or tried and the results are used to shape the process for addressing the other cases in the litigation.
The Goetz case will be the first Zantac bellwether trial in the Ranitidine Product Cases JCCP. It will also be the first Zantac trial in the nation. Other venues for Zantac cases in state courts—which were not affected by the MDL ruling last year—include Illinois (Cook County), Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), and Delaware. While the Illinois and Pennsylvania jurisdictions have a few hundred cases between them, there are roughly 77,000 cases consolidated in Delaware state court.