Ranitidine, the active ingredient in the popular heartburn medication Zantac, may cause cancer when it breaks down into N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), a chemical compound that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration calls a "probable carcinogen." In April 2020, the FDA requested that manufacturers withdraw all ranitidine drugs (whether prescription or over-the-counter) from the market.
The wave of lawsuits from affected Zantac and ranitidine users has already started to rise, but only a portion of this litigation will involve class action lawsuits. Many will fall under multi-district litigation (MDL) instead. Let's take a closer look at these two kinds of procedures.
Both MDL and class action lawsuits have the goal of handling civil court cases in a more efficient manner (compared with individual cases).
A class action lawsuit is basically one big case in which a single plaintiff (or a small group) represents the interests of all other class members against one or two defendants. When it comes to the nuts and bolts of litigation, the action occurs between the representative plaintiff and the defendant. However, the outcome of the case applies to all class members. Class action lawsuits allow numerous claimants to obtain legal relief in situations where it wouldn't be realistic for them to file individual lawsuits.
In contrast, an MDL doesn't consolidate all affected claimants into one lawsuit. Instead, each individual case gets centralized into one federal district court (before one judge). Sometimes, class action lawsuits will make up part of the cases in an MDL. But in general, MDL cases will have similar facts, but be different enough that it wouldn't be fair to apply a judgment or settlement across all claims.
For instance, two plaintiffs can suffer health problems caused by use of ranitidine, but their respective diagnoses and courses of treatment can be very different. That's why many of these types of cases don't get class action status, but instead go into MDL. Each lawsuit remains its own case, but all pretrial matters apply to all cases in the MDL.
MDLs also try to promote settlement by allowing a select group of plaintiffs to negotiate a global settlement with the defendant. If there is no settlement, the MDL judge will choose a few test cases to give both sides an idea of what to expect at trial. Because these cases attempt to gauge how the overall litigation will go, they are often referred to as "bellwether trials."
If no settlement is possible after having the bellwether trials, then each case will return to the court where the plaintiff originally brought suit.
It's fair to say that most ranitidine or Zantac consumers did not know of the drug's cancer risks when these products were still available over the counter and by prescription. Yet it's also unlikely that all of these consumers will develop cancer.
This creates two potential groups of plaintiffs. In the first group, we have people who took ranitidine and got cancer. In a second group, we have ranitidine users who did not get sick but were not properly informed of the drug's risks. This means the maker of the ranitidine medication likely violated one or more consumer protection laws.
In the first group, it's easy to see the potential for drugmaker liability and significant harm to plaintiffs ("damages") when a cancer diagnosis is linked to Zantac/ranitidine. In the second group, damages will probably be drastically smaller, most likely not exceeding the amount of money spent on Zantac, plus some small amount of statutory damages. (Learn more about how much a Zantac (ranitidine) case might be worth.)
Plaintiffs in the first group are better suited for individual cases, which are then consolidated into an MDL. These are similar cases that resulted in varying levels of harm (in terms of the details and the severity of cancer), so that a class action lawsuit would not be viable.
Plaintiffs in the second group are better suited for a class action lawsuit. The vast majority of these plaintiffs are in the same position: They thought Zantac was safe, so they purchased it. And after finding out that the drug may cause cancer, these plaintiffs want their money back, plus any other damages mandated by consumer protection laws.
Plaintiffs who argue that the ranitidine they took caused their cancer will most likely bring suit individually and have their cases sent to Judge Robin Rosenberg in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. This is where In re: Zantac (Ranitidine) Product Liability Litigation MDL No. 2924 is taking place (currently in the discovery stage of litigation).
As for plaintiffs who want to recover money spent on Zantac or other ranitidine drugs, a number of class action lawsuits have been filed across the U.S., and a few are part of the Zantac MDL. For example, three proposed class action lawsuits exist in New Jersey, California, and Connecticut. All of these cases focus on consumer protection, not personal injury, and we need to wait and see if the judge agrees to certify the requests for class status.
If you've been diagnosed with cancer or any health problem that could be related to your use of Zantac or another ranitidine product, it might be time to discuss your options with an attorney. Learn how to find the right attorney for your Zantac/ranitidine case.