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Effexor Lawsuit Involving Birth Defects Remanded to CA State Court

California resident Amanda Hatherley filed an Effexor lawsuit against Pfizer and McKesson in the Shasta County California Superior Court, based on allegations that her newborn child died as direct result of birth defects caused by her use of the antidepressant during pregnancy.

Her complaint was brought on claims of negligence, failure to warn, breach of implied and express warranties, deceit by concealment in violation of California Civil Code, negligent misrepresentation, fraud and fraudulent concealment, and wrongful death. Defendant Pfizer removed the lawsuit to federal court arguing that McKesson, a California pharmaceutical distributing firm, was fraudulently joined.

Federal judge finds McKesson drug distributer partially liable

However, on July 3, 2013, Judge William Shub remanded the Effexor birth defects case to state court, finding defendant McKesson Corp. was not falsely joined in the action because the company is not protected from liability for failure to warn of the medication’s risks.  Judge Shub, who presides over the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, found that under California state legislation, the general rule is that “in a product liability action, every supplier in the stream of commerce or chain of distribution, from manufacturer to retailer, is potentially liable.”

As reported by Harris Martin, Judge Shub concluded “Plaintiffs allege that defendants knew the risks to women who ingested Effexor while pregnant. They further allege that defendants failed to adequately inform physicians and misled physicians about the risks associated with Effexor… Even though defendants note that plaintiffs have not cited a single case in which a distributor of prescription medicines was held liable for failure to warn under California law, the foregoing analysis demonstrates that California law does not foreclose such liability under either a negligence or strict liability theory. Accordingly, it is not obvious that plaintiffs have no claim against McKesson under California law.”

The federal judge found there to be adequate evidence showing that McKesson was the distributor of the plaintiff’s Effexor. Amanda Hatherley named McKesson as a defendant in her Effexor lawsuit because the company is Pfizer’s largest distributor of their pharmaceutical products, accounting for 14 percent of the drug maker’s revenues.

Allegations of Effexor birth defects when taken during pregnancy

Produced by Pfizer, Effexor (venlafaxine) is a type of serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). The medication, which was launched in 1993, is used to treat major depressive disorder, anxiety, and panic disorder. It was the first SNRI to be sold in the United States, and since entering the market, has been linked to a host of serious side effects, especially when taken by pregnant women.

Though research has yielded mixed results about SNRIs and birth defects in children, many women like Amanda Hatherley have pursued an Effexor lawsuit after giving birth to a child with life-threatening congenital birth defects.

Some of the alleged SNRI birth defects cited in complaints against Pfizer include:

Plaintiffs are suing Pfizer, claiming the drug manufacturer is liable for failing to warn about potential birth defects from Effexor when taken during pregnancy. The U.S. Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) is presently considering an April 2013 motion to centralize Effexor lawsuits as multidistrict litigation  to better handle the growing number of complaints.