It has been nearly two years since the first GranuFlo and NaturaLyte lawsuits were filed against German dialysis provider and products manufacturer Fresenius. The lawsuits allege that the company hid the dangers of their acid concentrates from patients and doctors. Acid concentrates are used to cleanse the patient’s blood of natural toxins and GranuFlo and NaturaLyte are alleged to have caused sudden cardiac injury and death in some patients who underwent dialysis treatments that used these two products. To date, over 8000 lawsuits have been filed around the country. Most cases are being heard by federal and state courts in Massachusetts and Missouri.
In the coming months the parties in the national GranuFlo litigation will begin the process of selecting cases to be tried in front of juries in those two states. The process of selecting a handful of cases out of thousands that have been filed is known as the “bellwether process.” The cases selected are intended to be representative of the majority of the cases in litigation and the results from the jury trials allow the parties to better understand the issues in the case, the likelihood of success in future trials and the potential for global settlement.
The bellwether process has become more popular with federal courts where “mass actions” or “mass torts” have been consolidated for the handling of the issues common amongst numerous cases that allege common facts. The federal GranuFlo and NaturaLyte cases have been consolidated in a Multidistrict Litigation (“MDL”) in the District of Massachusetts before the Hon. Douglas Woodlock. If a person suffers a GranuFlo injury in California or Nebraska and files their lawsuit in federal court in those states, their case will be transferred to the federal court in Massachusetts for the handling of discovery and other pre-trial matters. Judge Woodlock has also entered an order that provides for several jury trials to occur in his court, these will be the “bellwether trials”.
The consolidation of cases and the bellwether trial process allows the U.S. court system to facilitate a fair and just resolution to a large number of cases while simultaneously preventing the courts for being overwhelmed by the thousands of cases that, in a nonconsolidated process, would clog the courts for years and create the risk for disparate or inconsistent results for the litigants.
“The parties to the case are selecting cases that highlight the common facts and issues that most, if not all cases, that have been filed possess,” said attorney Christopher Paulos of the law firm Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty and Proctor, P.A.. Mr. Paulos represents individuals and their families that have allegedly been injured by these products and has been actively involved in the litigation since its inception. “The goal is to have a bellwether process that puts the cases and the issues in front a jury, and to obtain verdicts that can be respected by all sides, thereby driving a resolution that is fair to all claimants.”
By November 2014, the bellwether case selections will be submitted to the court and a case management order governing the discovery and trial schedule for the cases should be issued. At that time, several GranuFlo victims will know that their case will be heard by a jury of their peers and potentially assist in the just resolution of the thousands of similar cases that stand behind them.
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow him on Twitter @Joshual33.