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By: Austin Kirk | Published: May 10th, 2013
A request has been filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to consolidate all Effexor birth defect lawsuits filed in the federal court system, asking to centralize the litigation before one judge for coordinated handling as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
There are currently at least 14 lawsuits involving Effexor pending in U.S. District Courts throughout the United States, and lawyers have suggested that the scope of the litigation is likely to increase in the coming months.
All of the lawsuits involving similar allegations that use of the popular antidepressant during pregnancy caused children to suffer various heart defects and malformations. The plaintiffs are seeking damages from Pfizer for failing to adequately warn consumers or the medical community about the Effexor heart defect risks.
In a motion (PDF) filed on April 24, one couple involved in the litigation, Glenn and Lauren Boyer, are asking that a panel of federal judges consolidate the lawsuits and establish an Effexor MDL. Such centralization is designed to reduce duplicative discovery among a large number of similar cases, avoid conflicting rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.
The Boyers have asked that the Effexor litigation be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania before Judge Cynthia M. Rufe, who is also presiding over all Zoloft birth defect lawsuits pending in the federal court system against Pfizer.
Effexor (venlafaxine) belongs to a class of antidepressants known as serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which are very similar to the more popular selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Zoloft. SNRIs are known to have many of the same side effects as SSRIs.
After receiving approval from the FDA in 1993 for treatment of major depressive disorders, Effexor has grown to become one of the most widely prescribed antidepressants in the United States. It has been used by millions of people, including many pregnant women who may not have been adequately warned about the risks that side effects of Effexor may have on their unborn child.
According to allegations raised in many of the Effexor lawsuits, plaintiffs claim that there were signs of the potential birth defect risk during clinical trials on animals and that there were signs of pregnancy problems with Effexor in post-marketing data as well. The lawsuits indicate that Wyeth, now owned by Pfizer, aggressively marketed the drug as safe for pregnant women, when no such assertion could be justified when looking at the scientific data.
Although there are only 14 cases currently filed in the federal court system, if an Effexor MDL is established, all cases filed throughout the federal court system in the future would be transferred to the same court for coordinated proceedings.
“Due to the widespread use of Effexor and the exceptionally high risk of birth defects posed by the use of Effexor, as shown in the medical literature, it is very likely that dozens of additional similar actions will be filed in or removed to federal courts in the future,” according to the Boyers’ motion.
Even if the cases are centralized for pretrial proceedings, each Effexor lawsuit will still remain an individual action. If the birth defect litigation does not settle during pretrial proceedings or otherwise resolve, each case may be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a separate trial date.
The U.S. JPML is expected to schedule oral arguments on the motion to centralize the Effexor birth defect litigation at an upcoming hearing session scheduled for July 25, 2013 in Portland, Maine.