Paxil Lawsuit over Birth Defects Remanded to Pennsylvania State Court

A federal judge has agreed to remand a Paxil birth defect lawsuit back to Pennsylvania state court, following an attempt by the manufacturer to have the case removed to the federal court system two years after the complaint was first filed.  

The product liability lawsuit was first brought by Theresa Powell and her daughter, Madison Powell, in the Philadelphia Court of Common please in June 2011, alleging that the mothers use of Paxil during pregnancy caused the child to develop birth defects.

Following the original filing of the complaint in Pennsylvania’s Mass Tort Program, which was established for all Paxil lawsuits involving birth defects, GlaxoSmithKline removed the case to the federal court system based on the argument that Powell is a citizen of California. However, that initial removal was reversed in December 2011, when a U.S. District Judge granted the plaintiffs’ request to remand the case back to state court and held that the drug maker was a citizen of the state of Pennsylvania, which would prevent Glaxo from seeking federal jurisdiction over a lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania state court.

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Dispute regarding the proper venue of Paxil birth defect lawsuits has been on-going in a number of cases filed in Pennsylvania’s state court system, as Glaxo has been attempting to remove the cases to federal court since it is perceived as a more favorable location for the drug maker, based on the belief that juries will be less likely to award substantial compensation to children left with severe birth defects from the drug maker’s failure to warn about the pregnancy risks with Paxil.

Following the 2011 remand of the Powell case back to Philadelphia’s Mass Torts Program, the parties engaged in substantial discovery and the lawsuit was scheduled for trial begin on October 21, 2013. However, Glaxo filed a second Notice of Removal on June 26, 2013, after another group of birth defect lawsuits against the drug maker were successfully kept in the federal court system when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that Glaxo is a citizen of the State of Delaware.

In a Memorandum (PDF) issued in the Powell case on September 26, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson granted plaintiff’s Motion to Remand (PDF) and returned the case back to Pennsylvania state court.

Judge Baylson concluded that the second removal was untimely because it occurred more than a year after the action commenced, that the Third Circuit decision does not impact the prior decision to remand this case and that all doubts about whether a case should be sent back to state court should be resolved in favor of remand, which has now been ordered in this case.

Paxil Birth Defect Lawsuits

The dispute over whether the Powell case should move forward in state or federal court comes after GlaxoSmithKline has previously agreed to pay several billion dollars in Paxil settlements to families of children who suffered birth defects or malformations. The continued attempts to avoid state court jurisdiction appears to be part of the drug maker’s effort to reduce the value of outstanding cases.

Paxil (paroxetine) is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) prescribed to treat depression. Approved in 1992, it has become one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States, generating sales of about $1 billion a year.

In December 2005, the FDA issued an alert in the United States about the risk of birth defects from Paxil, after studies showed the drug could increase the risk of the heart defects when taken during the first three months of pregnancy. At that time, the agency also required GlaxoSmithKline to update the warning label in this country to include information about the pregnancy risks with Paxil.

The company has faced hundreds of Paxil lawsuits in the United States, which were brought on behalf of children who suffered various birth defects and malformations, such as persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN) and other health problems. The complaints alleged that Glaxo purposefully hid test results that would have revealed the risks associated with use of Paxil during pregnancy and misled doctors.

In October 2009, a Pennsylvania jury awarded the family of a three year old child $2.5 million in compensation for birth defects from Paxil, following the first trial in the country. In 2010, it was reported that GlaxoSmithKline set aside $2.4 billion to settle Paxil birth defect lawsuits.

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