Zoloft Litigation Over Birth Defects Grows as MDL Panel Prepares to Meet
The number of new Zoloft birth defect lawsuits filed in federal courts throughout the United States has grown over the past two months, increasing the likelihood that a panel of judges scheduled to meet later this week will consolidate the litigation for pretrial proceedings.
In January 2012, Pfizer filed a motion to consolidate and centralize the Zoloft litigation over birth defects allegedly caused by use of their popular antidepressant during pregnancy.
At the time the motion was filed, 59 complaints had been filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the United States. However, plaintiffs argued that about 50 of those cases were improperly removed from state court into the federal court system, which may leave only a small number of cases for consolidation.
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So far this year, more than a dozen new lawsuits over Zoloft have been filed against Pfizer in at least eight different U.S. District Courts, increasing the likelihood that the litigation will be consolidated for pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
On March 29, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is scheduled to hear oral arguments in San Diego over whether a Zoloft MDL should be formed. While Pfizer was pushing for consolidation, many plaintiffs opposed centralization, arguing that the drug maker improperly removed dozens of cases pending in Pennsylvania state court to create the impression there were more cases than actually exist. Plaintiffs suggested that Pfizer was attempting to have the Zoloft birth defect litigation transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, a court the drug maker allegedly perceived would be more favorable to their position.
The growing number of complaints continuing to be filed throughout the United States is likely to be considered by the panel, as the cases all involve similar allegations that Pfizer failed to adequately research their medication or warn about the risk of birth defects from side effects of Zoloft use during pregnancy.
Various responses have been filed on behalf of different plaintiffs arguing that the litigation should be centralized in different federal district courts, with most supporting either the Southern District of Illinois or Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Zoloft (sertraline) was introduced by Pfizer in 1991 for the treatment of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. By 2007 there were nearly 30 million prescriptions, making it the most prescribed antidepressant in the United States. Zoloft belongs to a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
In recent years, a growing amount of research and adverse event reports have suggested that use of the medication during pregnancy may increase the risk of serious and potentially life-threatening health problems for babies, including persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN), spina bifida, heart defects, lung defects, abdominal defects, cranial defects and other malformations.
Studies have suggested that Zoloft may increase the risk of birth defects when used as early as the first trimester of pregnancy, a time when many women do not even know they are pregnant.
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