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Shortly after Zostavax manufacturer Merck & Co., Inc., filed a motion to have all federally-filed Zostavax lawsuits centralized in Florida, two groups of plaintiffs submitted motions to consolidate all state-filed Zostavax New Jersey lawsuits into one court to form a multicounty (MCL) litigation.

The parties are seeking consolidation to conserve judicial resources, prevent duplicative discovery, and avoid conflicting rulings by bringing Zostavax lawsuits together for pre-trial proceedings.

Plaintiffs Seek Zostavax Lawsuit Consolidation for Several Reasons

The New Jersey Supreme Court has received two applications for multicounty litigation designation of New Jersey state-court litigation against Merck & Co., Inc. The court has asked for the submission of comments on or objections to the applications by June 8, 2018.

Zostavax attorneys representing a group of 285 plaintiffs who currently have Zostavax lawsuits pending in New Jersey state courts filed the first application for MCL consolidation on February 15, 2018. All of the plaintiffs in these suits allege that they were injured by the Zostavax vaccine, which is designed to help prevent shingles, a painful skin rash caused by the chickenpox virus. The cases are currently spread out among several different courts with no coordination of discovery or centralized management.

Plaintiff’s attorneys explain that in addition to avoiding duplicative discovery and conflicting rulings, plaintiffs seek consolidation because many are of advanced age. Five have already passed away since litigation began. The hope is that consolidation would allow for a speedier discovery process.

The plaintiffs also argue that consolidation is warranted because there are many common questions of fact, including whether the manufacturers failed to provide adequate warnings about the risks associated with the vaccine. According to the application, “[a]s a result of the high degree of commonality of injuries and damages exhibited by the Plaintiffs, coordinated discovery would be advantageous and would promote convenience and fairness to all parties to these cases.”

The plaintiffs request consolidation in the Middlesex County Superior Court.

Plaintiffs All Have Similar Zostavax Injuries

Zostavax attorneys representing over 500 plaintiffs in actions filed against Merck & Co in state court in New Jersey filed a second application seeking MCL consolidation on March 6, 2018. They also request Middlesex County as the location for the multicounty litigation and agree that consolidation would help avoid duplicative discovery and inconsistent rulings, while conserving judicial resources.

The plaintiffs argue that the number of Zostavax lawsuits filed in New Jersey continues to increase, with anticipated additional increases in the future. Like the first group of plaintiffs, they assert that the lawsuits involve common questions of fact, with plaintiffs alleging that the manufacturers were aware of the dangers associated with the live-attenuated Zostavax vaccine, but misrepresented information about the product’s safety. The injuries asserted by plaintiffs in this litigation include shingles, eye disorders, meningitis, and encephalitis related to the zoster virus that causes shingles, and that is included in the Zostavax vaccine.

Finally, the plaintiffs argue that Middlesex County is the best location for the MCL because Bergen and Atlantic Counties are already managing an abundance of MCLs, while Middlesex has two that are on the verge of closing. Moreover, most of the Zostavax lawsuits are already pending there.

In April 2018, Merck & Co. filed a motion with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to transfer all federally-filed Zostavax lawsuits into one court for pre-trial proceedings. They requested the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

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