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As a growing number of families throughout the U.S. continue to file lawsuits alleging that children were born with severe birth defects from Zoloft use during pregnancy, a small number of cases are being prepared for early trial dates in state and federal courts.
There are currently more than 600 Zoloft birth defect lawsuits pending throughout the country, all involving similar allegations that Pfizer failed to provide adequate warnings for women and the medical community about the side effects associated with use of the popular antidepressant while pregnant.
The majority of the Zoloft litigation is consolidated in the federal court system, where cases are centralized before U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as part of an MDL, or Multidistrict Litigation. There are also several dozen cases pending in at least seven different state courts, with many involving multiple families with children who suffered malformations and birth defects after being exposed to the drug.
In a Joint Report (PDF) filed with Judge Rufe on March 4, attorneys involved in the federal proceedings provided an update on the preparations for a series of Zoloft bellwether trials that are expected to begin later this year.
Discovery is currently underway in a small group of Zoloft cases that have been selected for bellwether trials, with depositions of plaintiffs and health care providers scheduled this month. In addition, expert hearings in the cases are scheduled to take place the week of April 7. Jury selections are expected to being for the first trial on October 28, 2014.
In addition to the federal litigation, a number of cases are moving forward in various different state courts, with trial dates scheduled for next year in at least three lawsuits. According to a report submitted together with the joint status statement, trial dates have been scheduled for February 2015 in cases pending in Missouri and Pennsylvania, with an Alabama case scheduled for trial in August 2015.
These early trial dates are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated in other lawsuits. The outcome and preparation for these early trial dates may facilitate negotiations to reach settlement agreements in Zoloft cases brought by a large number of families.
Zoloft Birth Defect Injuries
Zoloft (sertraline) is one of the most widely prescribed medications in the United States, and has been used by tens of millions of individuals. However, use of Zoloft by pregnant women has been linked to a potential increased risk of serious and potentially life-threatening birth defects and malformation for children.
In November 2006, the FDA added warnings about a potential risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN) from Zoloft and other newer antidepressants when taken after the 20th week of pregnancy. The side effects of Zoloft and other similar medications were linked to a six times greater risk of PPHN.
In June 2007, studies found an association between the use of antidepressants like Zoloft early in the pregnancy and a risk of abnormal skull development, gastrointestinal abnormality and brain defects.
In September 2009, a study published in the British Medical Journal found that SSRI antidepressants like Zoloft increase the risk of heart defects when taken during the first trimester, a time when many women do not even know they are pregnant.
While the first cases are being prepared for early trial dates, the number of lawsuits filed nationwide continues to mount as Zoloft lawyers review additional cases for families as they learn that their child’s birth defects or malformations may have been caused by use of the antidepressant during pregnancy. It is ultimately expected that there may ultimately be several thousand cases brought against Pfizer over the blockbuster antidepressant.