Effexor MDL Established for Birth Defect Lawsuits

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By: Austin Kirk | Published: August 8th, 2013

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has agreed to consolidate all Effexor birth defect lawsuits filed in the federal court system, centralizing the cases before one judge as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.  

According to a transfer order (PDF) issued on August 6, complaints filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country involving allegations that children suffered birth defects or malformations from side effects of Effexor use during pregnancy will be assigned to U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for coordinated handling during pretrial proceedings.

The establishment of an MDL is common in complex pharmaceutical litigation, where a large number of complaints have been filed throughout the country involving similar allegations of injuries caused by a medication or medical device. The centralized management of the Effexor birth defect cases is designed to reduce duplicative discovery, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

Mounting Litigation Over Effexor Birth Defects

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.

There are currently at least nine lawsuits filed against Pfizer, the manufacturer, which are pending in five different U.S. District Courts. 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. As additional cases are filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country, they will be transferred to Judge Rufe for coordinated handling and pretrial proceedings.

Pfizer and plaintiffs agreed that the Effexor litigation should be consolidated and most parties agreed that the cases should be centralized before Judge Rufe, who is already presiding over all Zoloft birth defect lawsuits pending against Pfizer over their other popular antidepressant medication.

Following the coordinated pretrial proceedings in the EFfexor MDL, including potential “bellwether” 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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