Order of Zoloft Trials Over Birth Defects Set in MDL

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Zoloft birth defect lawsuits has established the order of the bellwether cases in the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL), where the first trial date is expected to begin in January 2016.

Pfizer currently faces several hundred product liability lawsuits brought by families of children born with congenital defects and malformations allegedly caused by side effects of Zoloft use during pregnancy. Each of the complaints raise similar allegations that the drug maker failed to adequately warn women and the medical community about the risks associated with using the popular antidepressant while pregnant.

Since April 2012, Zoloft cases filed throughout the federal court system have been centralized as part of an MDL before U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different courts and to serve the convenience of witnesses, parties and the Courts.

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As part of the coordinated MDL proceedings, the parties have been preparing a small group of cases for early trial dates. Known as “bellwether” cases, the outcomes of these Zoloft trials are designed to help the parties evaluate how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout litigation.

On May 1, Judge Rufe issued a pretrial order (PDF) laying out the order of the first five Zoloft bellwether cases that will go to trial, starting in January.

The first Zoloft trial in federal court will involve a complaint (PDF) filed by Deidra Long and her son, Hudson, of Alabama, on May 11, 2012. Hudson Long was born in January 2008 with congenital birth defects, including complex congenital heart disease, pulmonary stenosis, ventricular septal defect, L-transposition dextrocardia, and right ventricular hypoplasia. He has required multiple corrective surgeries and will need ongoing medical treatment and care, according to the lawsuit. His mother took Zoloft during her pregnancy.

“Had the Zoloft product information warned of the significant risks of birth defects in a developing fetus if used while pregnant, Deidra Long would not have ingested Zoloft during her pregnancy and her prescribing physicians would not have prescribed Zoloft for her to use during pregnancy,” the lawsuit states.

While the outcome of the Long trial and other bellwether cases will not be binding on any other claims, they may influence eventual Zoloft settlement negotiations with Pfizer. If the drug maker fails to settle or otherwise resolve the Zoloft litigation following the bellwether trials, Judge Rufe may begin remanding hundreds of individual cases back to U.S. District Courts nationwide for individual trials.

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