Effexor Lawyers Seek Leadership Roles in Federal Birth Defect Litigation

In advance of an upcoming status conference in the federal Effexor litigation, several attorneys have submitted applications for leadership roles in the coordinated pretrial proceedings established for lawsuits brought by families throughout the country who allege that their children were born with birth defects following Effexor exposure during pregnancy.

In August, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated all Effexor birth defect lawsuits brought in U.S. District Courts nationwide as part of an MDL, or Multidistrict Litigation. The cases are centralized before U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe for coordinated handling in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

An initial status conference in the Effexor MDL is scheduled for October 26, at which time lawyers involved in the litigation will meet to discuss the organization and structure of the issues.

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Effexor Lawsuits

Side effects of using the antidepressant during pregnancy may cause birth defects and malformations.

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On October 1, Judge Rufe issued a Case Management Order (PDF) appointing Mark S. Cheffo to serve as interim Liaison Counsel for the Defendants and Stephen A. Corr to serve as interim Liaison Counsel for all plaintiffs, charged with ensuring that orders and notices from the Court are transmitted to various lawyers representing families who have brought a claim in the MDL.

The Interim Liaison Counsel have also been ordered (PDF) to submit written position statements before the hearing, outlining each parties’ understanding of the facts involved in the litigation and the critical legal and factual issues.

In the meantime, a number of different attorneys have submitted applications to serve in various leadership roles in the litigation, including as Plaintiffs Lead Counsel or a member of a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee.

Following the initial status conference later this month, Judge Rufe is expected to appoint a group of plaintiffs lawyers to take various actions throughout the pretrial proceedings and any bellwether trial process that would be for the benefit of all families who have brought a case. These Effexor lawyers will conduct and coordinate discovery and take various actions on behalf of plaintiffs at hearings and meetings before the court, as well as negotiate and enter potential stipulations or settlements with the Defendants.

Effexor Birth Defect Lawsuits

There are currently about 50 product liability lawsuits pending in the MDL involving families who allege that Pfizer failed to adequately warn about the risk of birth defects from Effexor pregnancy use. However, given the widespread use of of the medication, it is expected that there will ultimately be hundreds of claims centralized before Judge Rufe as Effexor lawyers continue to review and file additional cases.

The Effexor MDL was established to reduce duplicative discovery across a large number of cases, to avoid inconsistent rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

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.

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