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 (FDA) 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 lawsuits will be filed individually or will fall under multi-district litigation (MDL) instead.
Both MDL and class action lawsuits have the goal of handling civil court cases more efficiently than individual lawsuits.
A class action lawsuit is one lawsuit 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 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 the 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 initially filed suit.
It's fair to say that most ranitidine or Zantac consumers didn't 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 didn't 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 limited to money plaintiffs spent on Zantac, plus 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 practical or fair.
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. These plaintiffs may also ask defendants to pay for "medical monitoring" to regularly screen them for Zantac-related cancers.
Plaintiffs who argue that the ranitidine caused their cancer will most likely bring suit individually in state or federal courts across the country. Plaintiffs who file lawsuits in federal court will likely have their cases sent to Judge Robin Rosenberg in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida (In re: Zantac (Ranitidine) Product Liability Litigation MDL No. 2924).
On December 6, 2022, Judge Rosenberg dismissed around the 50,000 or so Zantac-related claims in the federal MDL, ruling that the testing procedures the plaintiffs' experts used to show that Zantac can cause cancer weren't backed by sound science. Lawyers for the plaintiffs plan to appeal the decision. Judge Rosenberg's ruling doesn't affect the thousands of Zantac-related lawsuits filed in state courts across the country.
As for plaintiffs who want to recover money spent on Zantac or other ranitidine drugs, several class action lawsuits have been filed across the United States.
If you've been diagnosed with cancer or any health problem that you suspect is 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. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.
Need a lawyer? Start here.