July 12, 2012 — The first status conference in the Zoloft birth defect MDL litigation begins today. Today, plaintiffs and attorneys met with Judge Cynthia M. Rufe to discuss an overview of the litigation and assign leadership roles.
The MDL was established in April of this year to centralize a massive Zoloft birth defect litigation against the drug company Pfizer. Zoloft (sertraline) is an SSRI antidepressant that has been associated with an increased risk of severe, life-threatening birth defects when it is taken by women during pregnancy.
The agenda for today’s status conference includes the following matters:
- The number of lawsuits and nature of the litigation
- Assigning leadership roles and responsibilities
- The status of state court litigation, and coordinating state-federal litigation
- Joint proposed case management order
- Agreeing on a schedule for filing/responding to complaints/answers
- Organizing discovery proceedings
- Establishing dates and agendas for regular conferences
Judge Rufe is expected to appoint several attorneys to leadership roles in the Zoloft birth defect litigation. These attorneys will be in charge of conducting discovery, submitting/arguing motions, and potentially negotiating with Pfizer for a settlement. Later in the litigation, certain bellwether cases will be chosen that will set precedent for deciding other Zoloft birth defect lawsuits.
On April 17, 2012, a federal judge established a Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) to consolidate the Zoloft birth defect litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. It is very common for nationwide drug litigation to be centralized in an MDL, which increases convenience and efficiency, while reducing costs and the risk of conflicting rulings in lower courts.
Pfizer is accused of failing to warn women and their doctors that there is a possible increased risk of severe birth defects if a woman uses Zoloft while she is pregnant. It is possible that Pfizer could face thousands of Zoloft birth defect lawsuits on behalf of children who were born with life-threatening or fatal Zoloft birth defects.
At least a dozen studies have linked SSRI antidepressants to birth defects, and several have specifically associated Zoloft with increased risks — especially heart defects, abdominal defects, cranial defects, Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN), and more. A study found that omphalocele (a type of abdominal defect in which organs herniate outside the body) was 5.7-time more likely to occur in fetuses exposed to Zoloft. Several other studies have linked Zoloft to a higher risk of heart defects, particularly septal wall defects (also known as a “hole in the heart”).