Motion to Consolidate Lawsuits Over Zoloft Birth Defects To Be Heard Mar. 29

A panel of federal judges will hear oral arguments next month on whether to centralize all lawsuits over birth defects from Zoloft filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the United States.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has scheduled a hearing for March 29 in San Diego, at which point lawyers involved in the Zoloft litigation will have an opportunity to present their arguments over whether federal complaints filed against Pfizer by parents of children born with birth defects or malformations should be centralized for pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.

Pfizer filed a motion seeking the creation of a Zoloft MDL last month, arguing that the lawsuits should be consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to avoid potentially conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges, reduce duplicative discovery and to serve the convenience of the witnesses, the parties and the courts.

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In responses filed by a number of plaintiffs in opposition to the request, lawyers representing several families argue that Pfizer has improperly removed an estimated 49 Zoloft cases filed in state court to create the false illusion that there are more complaints pending in the federal court system.

Plaintiffs argue that Pfizer is attempting to have the claims moved to a court it believes will be more favorable.

Zoloft (sertraline) was introduced by Pfizer in 1991 for the treatment of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. By 2007 there were nearly 30 million prescriptions, making it the most prescribed antidepressant in the United States. Zoloft belongs to a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

In recent years, a growing amount of research and adverse event reports have suggested that side effects of Zoloft use during pregnancy may increase the risk of serious and potentially life-threatening health problems for babies, including persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN), spina bifida, heart defects, lung defects, abdominal defects, cranial defects and other malformations.

Studies have suggested that Zoloft may increase the risk of birth defects when used as early as the first trimester of pregnancy, a time when many women do not even know they are pregnant.

Most of the lawsuits over Zoloft birth defects identified by Pfizer in their motion were originally filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against the drug maker and a Pennsylvania-based company that was allegedly responsible for the patient education monograph (PEM) that was included with Zoloft prescriptions. Plaintiffs argue that an estimated 49 cases were improperly removed to federal court and should be returned to the state courts where they were originally filed.


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