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Zoloft Trials Over Birth Defects May Begin September 2014 in Federal Court

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According to a scheduling order issued by the federal judge presiding over all Zoloft birth defect lawsuits, the first case brought over side effects of the antidepressant during pregnancy is expected to be presented to a jury in September 2014.

Zoloft (sertraline) is one of the most widely prescribed medications in the United States, and has been used by tens of millions of individuals. However, use of Zoloft by pregnant women has been linked to a potential increased risk of serious and potentially life-threatening birth defects and malformation for children.

Over the past year, a growing number of product liability lawsuits have been filed against Pfizer on behalf of children throughout the United States, alleging that the drug maker failed to adequately warn users or the medical community about the risks associated with using Zoloft during pregnancy.

All lawsuits filed in the federal court system are currently consolidated before U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe for pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, which is centralized in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

As of mid-October 2012, there were about 245 lawsuits pending in the federal Zoloft MDL, with the number of claims continuing to increase as product liability lawyers continuing to review and file new cases on behalf of children who have been born with serious health problems, such as persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN), spina bifida, neural tube defects, heart defects, abdominal defects, club foot and other malformations.

According to a Pre-Trial Order (PDF) issued last month, Judge Rufe tentatively set the first Zoloft trial date for September 12, 2014, so long as all appropriate discovery has been completed according to a time frame established by the court. Judge Rufe has indicated that the first trial will not begin until at least 8 months after the briefing of any challenges to expert testimony that will be offered at trial.

The parties have been directed to submit proposals for the selection of a group of case that will undergo case-specific discovery by January 11, 2013, with another proposal for the selection of a smaller group of cases that will be eligible for the first trial date submitted by March 15, 2013.

In complex pharmaceutical litigation, where a large number of claims involve similar allegations, a small group of cases are often prepared for early trial dates, known as “bellwether” trials. The outcomes of these cases are designed to allow the parties to gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be offered throughout the litigation and help facilitate a possible Zoloft settlement agreement.

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