How Long Will My Zantac (Ranitidine) Lawsuit Take?

It's not easy to predict when your Zantac case will settle or go to trial, but here's what to keep in mind.

By , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

With links between Zantac (ranitidine) and the development of cancer—and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting that manufacturers withdraw all ranitidine drugs from the market—you might be considering filing a lawsuit over this once-popular heartburn medication. If so, here's what to know at the outset:

  • "Product liability" lawsuits over health problems caused by heartburn medication tend to proceed along a common timeline.
  • A number of factors will set the calendar for your particular case, but the biggest variable is whether your lawsuit is included in multidistrict litigation (MDL).
  • Settlement is the most likely outcome for a Zantac (ranitidine) lawsuit, and it can occur at any point on the timeline.

The Zantac Heartburn Medication Lawsuit Process

Like most injury-related civil cases, lawsuits over illness linked to heartburn medication typically proceed through a number of distinct stages. And while every case is different, a number of factors will determine the timeline. Here's a snapshot of the key phases of a typical lawsuit over the safety of Zantac (ranitidine):

  • The consumer (now the "plaintiff") files a civil complaint in court. The complaint is the document that starts the personal injury lawsuit. It describes the plaintiff's case and claims against the "defendant"—in these cases it's usually a drug manufacturer like Sanofi, maker of Zantac. Note that plaintiffs sometimes name multiple defendants, as might happen where a consumer sues both the manufacturer of the heartburn medication and a retailer that kept selling it even after a recall or FDA order to stop sales.
  • The defendant files an answer to the complaint. Note that around this time, a Zantac lawsuit might be moved to the existing multi-district litigation (MDL), which currently groups together hundreds of claims over health problems linked to ranitidine (more on MDL later).
  • The discovery process begins: The plaintiff and defendant exchange information, medical records, and other evidence through written questions (interrogatories), sworn testimony (depositions), and document requests.
  • Pre-trial motions are filed and hearings are held: Both sides of the lawsuit try to persuade the judge to allow or disallow certain evidence (testimony from a proposed expert medical witness, for example) or to dismiss all or part of the other side's argument.
  • Trial takes place: The plaintiff and defendant carefully set out their arguments in front of the judge or jury, and the judge or jury decides whether the defendant should be held financially responsible for the plaintiff's health problems and other losses (damages) tied to use of Zantac (ranitidine).

Those are the basics of the process, but the two sides could discuss (and finalize) a settlement at any point (more on this later). Now let's take a closer look at factors that have the biggest impact on how long the heartburn medication lawsuit process might take.

Claims Over the Safety of a Medication Can Get Complicated

Most Zantac lawsuits rely on the legal concept of product liability, in which a plaintiff seeks to hold a manufacturer responsible for health problems caused by an unreasonably dangerous or otherwise defective pharmaceutical or consumer product. These kinds of cases can be quite complex. There may be issues to address right at the outset, including the appropriate statute-of-limitations filing deadline if the plaintiff's heartburn medication-linked illness didn't show up right away. And there will certainly be stacks of medical records to sift through, plus expert witnesses to hear from (often multiple experts on both sides of the case).

All this means some of the phases mentioned above will undoubtedly take longer than they might in a less complex lawsuit (one stemming from a car accident, for example). That's especially true when it comes to the discovery process and the filing of pretrial motions that will set the ground rules for any trial. And given that many individual Zantac lawsuits end up getting moved to the existing multi-district litigation, one case calendar will apply to hundreds of claims. Learn more about the Zantac MDL and how it works.

Your Heartburn Medication Lawsuit Could Settle at Any Time

As discussed above, any lawsuit over the safety of a medication like Zantac is bound to follow roughly the same path from the filing of the complaint through a trial, especially where the MDL is concerned, but it's also important to note that settlement of a Zantac lawsuit can take place at any time.

As the trial date gets closer and the parties get a better sense of the case landscape (and of their respective chances of prevailing), there's a good chance they'll at least test the settlement waters. And even if the two sides don't come together on their own to try to resolve the heartburn medication case out of court, depending on the jurisdiction in which the lawsuit is filed, the court is almost certain to require that the plaintiff and defendant attend at least one mandatory settlement conference before trial takes place.

Keep in mind that if your case is part of the Zantac (ranitidine) MDL, and a global settlement is reached, you can usually choose whether to take part in the agreement or continue your lawsuit.

Your Zantac Lawsuit Timeline Is (Partly) up to You

One of the biggest variables in determining how long your heartburn medication illness lawsuit will take is you. If the defendant offers you a settlement early on, and you accept the deal, you'll certainly end up with some fast cash, but you might not be getting full and fair compensation for your losses. (More: How much is a Zantac case worth?)

Early settlement usually isn't a good idea if there are still big unknowns, including:

  • a complete diagnosis of your health problems resulting from use of Zantac or another ranitidine-based medication, and
  • a full picture of the medical treatment that will be necessary.

Before any of the formal litigation steps described in this article, the first move for a potential plaintiff is consulting an experienced attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer will be able to explain the rules in your jurisdiction and your strategic options. An attorney can present the pros and cons of settlement, including the fact that once you settle, you can't go back and ask for more money, even if it turns out your health problems are worse than you first thought. Get tips on finding the right attorney for you and your Zantac (ranitidine) lawsuit.

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