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As Pfizer continues to face a growing number of Effexor lawsuits filed on behalf of children born with birth defects after exposure to the antidepressant during pregnancy, the drug maker is attempting to delay a deposition scheduled for one of it’s vice presidents.
On Monday, Pfizer filed a motion to quash a deposition notice and subpoena (PDF) for Jay Bowsher, vice president of sales. The motion claims that plaintiffs gave the company and Bowsher little time to prepare for the deposition, and indicates that Bowsher has not worked on Effexor for years and travels extensively, meaning he will need significant time to prepare for the deposition.
Attorneys for families throughout the U.S. who are pursuing claims over birth defects caused by Effexor claim that Pfizer has known for months about the need for a deposition of a sales executive, and argue that requests to set a deposition date have repeatedly been ignored.
According to the response (PDF) filed by plaintiffs, Pfizer has suggested that Bowsher can not be produced for the deposition for the next “several months”. The deposition was set for May 6, but plaintiffs indicate that they have agreed to postpone the date, but indicate that it should be set within the next 15 days.
“As the record related to this issue reflects, counsel for the [Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee] has been very patient with Pfizer’s counsel,” indicate plaintiffs in the response. “[Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee] counsel has been requesting a… witness on the topic of Effexor sales and marketing since December 2013. Now, over four (4) months later, Pfizer still has not produced a witness, and claims that it needs ‘several more months’ to do so. This is unacceptable.”
More than 50 birth defect lawsuits filed against Pfizer and its Wyeth subsidiary over Effexor are currently consolidated in the federal court system as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation. Cases filed throughout the country are centralized before U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for coordinated management during discovery and pretrial proceedings.
Although the Effexor MDL was established before Judge Rufe in August 2013, plaintiffs note in their response that no depositions have yet been taken, indicating that “Pfizer’s stonewalling needs to stop.”
All of the claims involved in the Effexor litigation involve similar allegations, claiming that Pfizer failed to adequately research the effects of their antidepressant when used by pregnant women. Several studies have suggested that side effects of Effexor during pregnancy may cause children to be born with serious health problems, including heart defects, malformations or abnormal developments.
Plaintiffs allege that there were signs of the potential pregnancy risks 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.
It is expected that Judge Rufe will schedule a series of early trial dates in the MDL, known as “bellwether” cases, which are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout other cases. Following these bellwether trials, if Effexor settlement agreements or another resolution for the cases is not reached, Judge Rufe may begin remanding dozens of individual cases back to the U.S. District Courts where they were originally filed for separate trials.