New Jersey Mass Tort Program Continues To Expand
New Jersey is known for many things, including an established state court mass tort program. Currently, there are twenty litigations under centralized management in three different courts (Atlantic, Bergen, and Middlesex Counties) being managed by four separate judges (Hon. Carol Higbee, Hon. Brian Martinotti, Hon. Jessica Mayer, and Hon. Ann McCormick).
New Jersey has a specific court rule – Rule 4:38A – that authorizes centralization of cases for coordinated management. The New Jersey Supreme Court has also promulgated written guidelines for determining whether or not a litigation should receive centralized management.
Under the so-called “Mass Tort Guidelines,” the Assignment Judge or any attorney involved in a case or cases may make a written application to the New Jersey Supreme Court, through the Administrative Director of the Courts, for a designation and assignment of the case(s) for centralized management before a designated judge. Such applications are often, but not always, granted.
Once centralized, designated litigations operate as a kind of “mini-MDL,” drawing plaintiffs not only fromNew Jersey, but also claimants from other states (or even other countries) who seek to take advantage of some ofNew Jersey’s plaintiff-friendly rules and rulings.
Recently, the nomenclature used to describe a centralized litigation has changed from a “mass tort” to “centralized management.” This change in description is somewhat of a minor benefit to defendants, as the term “mass tort” may be somewhat inertial in driving up the number of cases that may be filed following centralization under Rule 4:38A.
Currently, there are twelve litigations designed as a “mass tort”: Accutane, Bristol-Myers Squibb Environmental, Fosamax, Levaquin, Digitek, NuvaRing, Yaz/Yasmin/Ocella, Asbestos, Gadolinium, HRT, Risperdal/Seroquel/Zyprexa, and Zometa/Aredia. There are also eight litigations designed for “centralized management”: Pelvic Mesh, Reglan, Stryker Implant, DePuy ASR Hip Implant,Pompton Lakes, Prudential, AlloDerm, and Propecia. Many, but not all, of these litigations involve pharmaceuticals or medical devices.
Propecia is the newest litigation centralized by the Supreme Court in March 2012. There is also currently pending another application to centralize litigation involving certain NexGen Flex Orthopedic Knee Products; comments on that application were due by January 31, 2012.
As designated litigations mature and run their course, they also lose their centralized management status. Most recently, in February 2012, the Supreme Court effected this change with regard to the Plavix litigation.
As this ever-growing program makes clear, centralized management of mass tort-type cases will continue to be an important part of the New Jersey court system.