Club Foot Lawsuit Filed Over Zoloft Use Early in Pregnancy

In a recently filed product liability lawsuit against Pfizer, a Georgia mother alleges that side effects of Zoloft use early in pregnancy caused her daughter to be born with a clubbed foot and other birth defects. 

The complaint (PDF) was filed on behalf of Ember Alexis Chupp and her mother, Cassie Chupp, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on March 9, alleging that Pfizer failed to adequately warn about the risks associated with use of the antidepressant Zoloft during the first trimester.

Cassie Chupp indicates that she was prescribed Zoloft shortly after becoming pregnant in 2004, because her doctor did not know about the potential link between Zoloft and birth defects.

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During an ultrasound in November 2014, doctors discovered that Chupp’s daughter, Ember, had bilateral talipes equinovarus, more commonly known as clubbed feet. As a result of the problem, Ember had to undergo multiple corrective surgeries and treatments following birth, according to the complaint.

“As a baby and throughout her childhood, Ember’s doctors have closely monitored her bilateral clubbed foot. Her monitoring continues yearly and will follow her for her entire life,” the lawsuit indicates. “To this day, Pfizer has not informed women of childbearing age or even pregnant women that they should not take Zoloft. Pfizer still targets these women as their primary market.”

Chupp raises allegations similar to those brought in a number of other Zoloft lawsuits filed against Pfizer in recent years, claiming that the drug maker knew or should have known before the drug was released in 1991 that it was linked to birth defects, due to preclinical animal studies that showed Zoloft caused significant harm to animal fetuses when it was administered during pregnancy.

The lawsuit accuses the company of failure to warn, designing a defective drug, breach of warranty, negligence, fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment. The mother seeks both compensatory and punitive damages.

Zoloft Risk of Clubbed Foot, Other Birth Defects

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, several studies have suggested that use of Zoloft early in pregnancy may increase the risk of serious and potentially life-threatening birth defects and malformation for children.

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 (BMJ) 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.

There are currently several hundred product liability lawsuits pending nationwide involving children born with severe birth defects and malformations after exposure to Zoloft early in pregnancy. Since April 2012, complaints filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country have been centralized for pretrial proceedings before U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, as part of a multidistrict litigation, or MDL.

As part of the coordinated proceedings before Judge Rufe, it is expected that a number of Zoloft trials will be scheduled to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation. Although the outcomes of these “bellwether” trials will not be binding on other cases, they may ultimately facilitate Zoloft settlement agreements to avoid the need for hundreds of individual trials nationwide.


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