June 17, 2014 — The first “bellwether” trials involving birth defects allegedly caused by the antidepressant Effexor (venlafaxine) have been scheduled for November 2015.

There are currently at least 58 lawsuits pending before District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. More than 500 similar lawsuits involving Zoloft (sertraline) are pending in the same court.

According to a Case Management Order issued June 11, the first trial is tentatively set to begin no later than November 2, 2015. Judge Rufe set deadlines for providing fact sheets, medical records, and other documents pertaining to cases that have already been filed. She also established rules for the discovery and deposition process.

Lawsuits have been centralized in a Multi-District Litigation (MDL) since August 2013. All of the cases involve similar allegations that Effexor increases the risk of birth defects when it is taken by pregnant women. Plaintiffs accuse Pfizer’s Wyeth subsidiary of downplaying this risk information.

The “bellwether” trial process is used when a large group of plaintiffs have very similar legal claims. Lawyers use these trials to gauge how a jury will respond to certain types of evidence. If the jury awards compensation, defendants might decide to negotiate a settlement rather than face high jury awards and the cost of litigation.