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Direct Filing of Effexor Lawsuits into Birth Defects MDL Permitted

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The U.S. District judge presiding over all federal Effexor birth defect lawsuits has issued an order that allows new claims brought by families throughout the U.S. to be directly filed into the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) established for the cases.

Since August 2013, centralized management has been established for all product liability lawsuits filed against Pfizer in U.S. District Courts nationwide involving allegations that side effects of Effexor use during pregnancy caused children to be born with severe birth defects, malformations and other injuries.

There are currently at least 68 Effexor cases pending in the MDL, which has been centralized before U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges, reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the cases and to serve the convenience of witnesses, the parties and Courts. However, as Effexor injury lawyers continue to review and file cases for families nationwide, it is ultimately expected that several hundred cases will be brought against Pfizer involving birth defects allegedly caused by exposure to the drug.

In a case management order (PDF) issued late last month, Judge Rufe approved the direct filing of future Effexor lawsuits directly into the MDL in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which will increase judicial efficiency in bringing new claims, avoiding the delays associated with transferring cases from other districts.

To qualify for direct filing, each lawsuit must be a “single-plaintiff complaint”, involving only one child injured by exposure to Effexor. Each complaint must also include details on the specific defendants involved in the case, the specific products used, the date the child was born and, if applicable, the date they died.

Effexor Birth Defect Litigation

All of the cases involved in the Effexor MDL raise similar allegations, claiming that Pfizer failed to adequately research the risks associated with use of the antidepressant during pregnancy, indicating that the drug maker withheld important safety information from consumers and the medical community about the risk of becoming pregnant while taking Effexor.

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 Pfizer knew or should have known about the potential pregnancy side effects during clinical trials for Effexor involving animals. In addition, plaintiffs maintain 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.

As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings, Judge Rufe has indicated that a small number of cases will be prepared for early Effexor bellwether trials, which are set to begin in November 2015. While the outcomes of these trials will not be binding in other cases, they are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout the litigation.

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