Summary Judgment Sought in Zoloft Birth Defect Litigation

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Pfizer is seeking to have hundreds of Zoloft birth defect lawsuits dismissed, after the U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation excluded a plaintiffs’ general causation expert, which linked the popular antidepressant to cardiac defects. 

There are currently at least 280 product liability lawsuits pending in the federal court system, which all involve allegations that side effects of Zoloft prescribed during pregnancy caused children to develop severe heart problems and congenital defects. The cases are all centralized for pretrial proceedings before U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.

Earlier this month, Judge Rufe issued a memorandum opinion (PDF) explaining her decision to exclude the testimony of Nicholas Jewell, Ph.D. as an expert offered by the plaintiffs. The decision came after previous human causation experts offered by plaintiffs were excluded, and Judge Rufe allowed plaintiffs to add Dr. Jewell as an expert with regard to the link between Zoloft and cardiac defects in children.

Dr. Jewell’s opinion was that “maternal use of Zoloft during early pregnancy is capable of causing, or contributing to cause, cardiovascular birth defects.” However, following briefing by both parties and a four-day hearing, Judge Rufe determined that the opinion was not based on reliable scientific and statistical methods, and ruled that Dr. Jewel’s expert testimony should be excluded from all cases in the MDL.

In a Motion for Summary Judgement (PDF) filed on December 3, Pfizer argued that all remaining cases in the Zoloft birth defect litigation should be dismissed, indicating that plaintiffs now lack admissible and sufficient evidence to establish causation in their claims.

According to a Pretrial Order (PDF) issued on December 9, Judge Rufe indicates that Plaintiffs shall respond to the motion no later than January 19, 2016, with any reply filed by Pfizer no later than February 2, 2016.

By the end of next week, Judge Rufe has directed the parties to provide the court with their respective positions on the future of the litigation in the Zoloft MDL, including scheduling, motions practice, mediation and trial dates set to begin in March 2016.

Plaintiffs are likely to appeal Judge Rufe’s decision regarding the expert witnesses, so the litigation may be far from over for families of children born with birth defects following use of the popular antidepressant.

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