Centralization of Effexor Lawsuits Over Birth Defects Supported by Pfizer

In response to a motion filed last month seeking the consolidation of all Effexor lawsuits before one judge, Pfizer has indicated that it supports the the creation of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, for cases brought on behalf of children who suffered birth defects or malformations after their mothers used the antidepressant during pregnancy.  

On April 24, plaintiffs filed a request with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) asking that all Effexor birth defect cases pending in the federal court system be centralized before U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for coordinated handling during pretrial proceedings.

In a response (PDF) filed by Pfizer on May 21, the drug maker indicates that it agrees that coordinated handling handling of the Effexor litigation in an MDL is appropriate, and further agrees that the new MDL should be assigned to Judge Rufe, who already presides over all Zoloft birth defect lawsuits pending against Pfizer over their other popular antidepressant medication.

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The establishment of an MDL is common in complex litigation where a large number of complaints have been filed throughout the country involving similar allegations. 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.

Effexor Birth Defect Litigation

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 plaintiffs now allege may not have been adequately warned about the effects that Effexor may have on their unborn child.

There are currently at least 14 cases pending in 7 different U.S. District Courts throughout the United States involving families who allege that Effexor pregnancy use caused birth defects or malformation.

All of the lawsuits involve similar allegations that Pfizer’s Wyeth subsidiary failed to adequately warn consumers or the medical community about the risks associated with use of the medication during pregnancy.

Plaintiffs claim that there were signs of the potential birth defect risk 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.

Given the widespread use of Effexor, it is expected that hundreds of 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.

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.

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