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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Effexor birth defect lawsuits has scheduled the first bellwether trial to begin in November 2015, serving as a test case for dozens of similar claims over Pfizer’s failure to warn about the risks associated with use of the antidepressant among pregnant women.
There are currently more than 60 product liability lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system against Pfizer, which all involve similar allegations that side effects of Effexor caused birth defects, malformations and other injuries for children exposed before birth.
Since August 2013, all Effexor cases have been centralized before U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL), for coordinated pretrial proceedings, including a series of early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout a number of cases.
According to a case management order (PDF) issued on June 1, the first Effexor bellwether trial will begin on November 2, 2015, subject to completion of all necessary discovery in the cases.
In addition to establishing the first Effexor trial date, Judge Rufe laid out the plan for attorneys involved in the litigation to follow to get the case ready for trial, setting deadlines for providing Plaintiff Fact Sheets and turning over discovery documents.
In complex pharmaceutical litigation, where a large number of cases involve similar allegations, such bellwether trials are often useful in helping the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.
While the outcome of these early trial dates will not be binding on other lawsuits, the preparation and trial of the cases may facilitate negotiations to reach Effexor settlements that avoid the need for dozens of individual trials throughout the country.
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.
Plaintiffs allege 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 Pfizer’s Wyeth subsidiary aggressively marketed the drug as safe for pregnant women, when no such assertion could be justified when looking at the scientific data.
Several studies have suggested that exposure to Effexor before birth may cause children to develop a number of different serious health problems, including heart defects, malformations or abnormal developments.
The litigation raises several allegations similar to those presented against Pfizer in more than 500 Zoloft birth defect lawsuits, which are also consolidated before Judge Rufe, with the first trials expected to begin in January 2015.