January 28, 2015 — Dozens of lawsuits alleging that the antidepressant medication Effexor causes birth defects when it is taken during pregnancy have been dropped from a federal Multi-District Litigation (MDL No. 2458) in Pennsylvania.
Law360 reports that U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe agreed to dismiss eight lawsuits. Attorneys are asking for her to dismiss 26 lawsuits. Before the dismissals, a total of 68 lawsuits were filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Members of the litigation are women who used Effexor (venlafaxine) during pregnancy and had a baby with a birth defect.
Pfizer and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals are accused of promoting Effexor as a safe and effective treatment for pregnant women, despite knowing that its use during pregnancy might increase the risk of serious birth defects.
Last month, Judge Rufe ordered that lawyers choose 14 cases to undergo discovery for possible selection as “bellwether” trials. The purpose of the trials is to help evaluate how a jury will respond to evidence. If compensation is awarded, it can help expedite a settlement or other resolution for plaintiffs with similar injuries.
Unlike a class action, where the outcome for an entire class of people depends on a single lawsuit, every lawsuit in a MDL remains independent. Each plaintiff has their own attorney and each case can have its own outcome.
Judge Rufe also oversees a parallel litigation involving Zoloft, another antidepressant linked to birth defects that is manufactured by Pfizer. Several studies have found that Zoloft increases the risk of having a baby with a heart defect and the FDA has issued warnings about Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN).