Initial Conference Scheduled with Judge in Effexor Birth Defect Litigation

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By: Austin Kirk | Published: September 17th, 2013

Following the centralization of all federal Effexor birth defect lawsuits into an MDL, or Multidistrict Litigation, an initial status conference has been scheduled for next month, at which time the organization and structure of the litigation will be established.

In August, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered that all complaints filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country on behalf of children diagnosed with birth defects or malformations from exposure to the antidepressant Effexor during pregnancy will be centralized for coordinated pretrial proceedings before U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

According to the first Case Management Order (PDF) issued on August 22, Judge Rufe has scheduled an initial status conference for Friday, October 25 in Philadelphia. Prior to the meeting, it is expected that interim liasison counsel will be appointed for the plaintiffs and defendants, to facilitate administrative issues in advance of the initial conference.

Following applications from lawyers who wish to serve in various leadership roles in the litigation, Judge Rufe indicates that a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee will be established. This group of lawyers will conduct and coordinate the discovery stage of the litigation, and will take various actions on behalf of all plaintiffs at hearings and meetings before the Court, including entering potential stipulations or settlement negotiations with the Defendants.

Judge Rufe has indicated that applications to serve in the various leadership roles should be submitted no later than October 1, 2013, with any objections raised to the appointment of an applicant made by October 15.

Prior to the initial conference, the parties have been directed to each submit a non-binding “position statement”, providing a brief wirtten statement of the parties understanding of the facts involved in the Effexor birth defect litigation and critical factual or legal issues that may arise. A proposed agenda for the meeting is to be submitted by October 18.

Effexor Birth Defect Problems

At the time the Effexor MDL was established, there were at least nine birth defect cases pending in federal courts throughout the country. However, given the widespread use of of the medication, Effexor lawyers reviewing potential cases expect that hundreds of product liability lawsuits will ultimately be filed against Pfizer on behalf of children who suffered heart defects and other malformations following exposure to the medication before birth.

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.

All of the lawsuits involve similar allegations that Pfizer’s Wyeth subsidiary failed to adequately warn consumers or the medical community about the pregnancy risks with Effexor and the impact the medication may have on unborn children.

Plaintiffs claim that there were signs of the potential pregnancy side effects during clinical trials on animals and that there were indications that Effexor may affect children during pregnancy following post-marketing data as well. The lawsuits allege that Wyeth aggressively marketed the drug as safe for pregnant women, when no such assertion could be justified when looking at the scientific data.

Following the coordinated pretrial proceedings in the MDL, including potential “bellwether” Effexor trials that may be scheduled to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to evidence that is likely to be repeated throughout a number of cases, if a settlement or other resolution is not reached, each case may ultimately be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for an individual trial date.

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