Judge Meeting With Parties in Litigation Over Zoloft Birth Defects

Parties involved in the federal Zoloft litigation are meeting this morning with the judge presiding over the consolidated cases to discuss how the lawsuits will be moved toward a resolution or trial. 

A status conference was scheduled for today before U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where all federal lawsuits over Zoloft birth defects are consolidated for pretrial proceedings as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL).

Zoloft (sertraline) is one of the most widely prescribed medications in the United States.  Introduced by Pfizer in 1991, Zoloft is commonly used for treatment of depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. However, use of the medication during pregnancy has been linked to a risk of birth defects for unborn children, including persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN), spina bifida, heart defects, lung defects, abdominal defects, cranial defects and other malformations.

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At least 140 Zoloft birth defect lawsuits have already been filed nationwide on behalf of children who developed health problems that were allegedly caused by their mother’s use of the antidepressant during pregnancy.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all federal Zoloft lawsuits filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country before Judge Rufe in April 2012. The cases have been centralized to reduce duplicative discovery in many similar cases, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges in different states and to serve the convenience of the parties, the witnesses and the courts.

According to a Proposed Agenda (PDF) posted by the court in advance of the meeting, attorneys on both sides of the lawsuits are expected to discus how records should be preserved and collected in the various cases and develop a discovery plan for plaintiff and defendant fact sheets and how depositions will be conducted.

All of the complaints involve similar allegations that Pfizer failed to adequately warn consumers or the medical community about the risks of problems for unborn children if Zoloft is used during pregnancy. It is ultimately expected that hundreds, if not thousands, of lawsuits will be filed by Zoloft lawyers throughout the United States who are currently investigating potential cases.  As these complaints are filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country they will be transferred into the Zoloft MDL.

Although the birth defect litigation has been centralized for pretrial proceedings, which is often confused with a Zoloft class action, the lawsuits remain individual cases and each plaintiff must establish that malformations or defects were caused by the use of Zoloft.  Following pretrial proceedings, if a settlement or other resolution is not reached, each case may be remanded back to the court where it was originally filed for an individual trial.


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