Zoloft Lawsuits Continue to Mount Over Malformations, Birth Defects

More than 400 families throughout the country are pursuing a product liability lawsuit against Pfizer over birth defects and malformations caused by Zoloft, with the number of complaints continuing to increase. 

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, lawsuits allege that use of the SSRI antidepressant by pregnant women increases the risk of serious and potentially life-threatening health problems for children.

In April 2012, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation centralized the federal Zoloft birth defect litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where the cases are being overseen during pretrial proceedings by U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe. At that time, there were about 92 cases pending throughout the federal court system

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According to a status update letter (PDF) posted by the court last week, there are now at least 336 cases that have been transferred into the Zoloft MDL, or multidistrict litigation. Additional lawsuits filed on behalf of more than 50 families are currently pending in the federal court system outside the MDL, with motions pending to remand the cases back to state courts where they were originally filed.

There are also Zoloft lawsuits pending in several state courts, with complaints filed on behalf of 23 families in Missouris, 9 families in Illinois, 4 families in New York and one case each in Pennsylvania and West Virginia state courts.

All of the complaints involve similar allegations that Pfizer failed to adequately warn consumers or the medical community about the risks of using Zoloft during pregnancy, which have been linked to a risk of children developing persistent pulmonary hypertension in new borns (PPHN), spina bifida, heart defects, lung defects, abdominal defects, cranial defects and other malformations.

Early Trial Dates Over Zoloft Malformations, Birth Defects

As part of the consolidated proceedings in the federal court system, a small number of lawsuits are being prepared for early trial dates, known as “bellwether” Zoloft cases. The first trial is scheduled to begin no later than October 13, 2014.

Twenty five cases will be selected as part of an early trial pool, with plaintiffs selecting 12 cases and Pfizer selecting 13 cases. The bellwether lawsuits will undergoing case-specific discovery in preparation for these first trials. According to an order (PDF) issued on April 1, Judge Rufe has extended the deadline for Pfizer’s final selections until April 22.

The parties have also been ordered (PDF) to submit joint or competing proposals by May 15 regarding the selection of the first cases that will be tried.

These “bellwether” cases are designed to help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated through many lawsuits filed on behalf of children born with defects and malformations caused by the side effects of Zoloft use during pregnancy.  The outcomes of the trials and information obtained during the discovery phase are designed to help facilitate a potential Zoloft settlement agreement.

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