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Zoloft Birth Defect Lawsuit News: MDL Bellwether Cases

There are currently more than 430 similar lawsuits consolidated in a Zoloft MDL. As part of the early discovery process, a small number of cases will be chosen as the first trials to be heard in court, which could set a precedent for those to follow. These bellwether trials are scheduled to begin on October 13, 2014, but the respective parties disagree over how the Zoloft lawsuits should be selected.

Pfizer’s antidepressant Zoloft taken by millions, despite warnings

Zoloft (sertraline) was FDA-approved to treat depression in 1992. It is currently one of the most widely prescribed SSRI antidepressants in the U.S., with tens of millions of users. However, concerns surfaced in November 2006 when the FDA added a warning that women who took the drug after 20 weeks of pregnancy had a six times greater risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns.

In June 2007, studies reported a link between the use of antidepressants like Zoloft in early pregnancy and a risk of abnormal skull development, brain defects and gastrointestinal abnormalities. A September 2009 study published in the British Medical Journal found that Zoloft taken in the first trimester increased the risk of heart defects.

Zoloft lawsuits centralized as MDL

All the Zoloft birth defect lawsuit filings share similar claims that the antidepressant caused fetal malformations when used during pregnancy. Holes in the heart, cleft palates, club feet, spina bifida, skull defects and persistent pulmonary hypertension are some of the egregious deformities alleged by plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs allege that they were not informed of potential risks and that the manufacturer of the drug was negligent in making and promoting an unsafe drug. To better handle the litigation, all Zoloft claims filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country were centralized in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania before U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe in April 2012. At the time, there were only 92 cases filed, but this number has grown exponentially as more reports of Zoloft birth defects come to light.

Parties disagree over which cases to send to trial first

A recent report by Special Discovery Master Andrew A. Chirls said that the parties disagree on how to narrow down the cases and prepare for the first trial. So far, plaintiff attorneys and Pfizer have agreed that the “Initial Discovery Pool” of 25 cases should be whittled down to 13 cases selected by Pfizer and 12 cases selected by leadership-appointed plaintiff lawyers. The parties also agreed that there should be six cases in the “Trial Pool,” including three selected by each side.

However, Pfizer wants the plaintiffs to pick their cases first before deciding which ones they’ll choose to pursue. The attorneys feel the picks need to be simultaneous in all fairness. There was further disagreement over how many of the Trial Pool cases should be prepared to move forward on October 13th, 2014. Pfizer recommended that each side prepare just one case to keep costs to a minimum, while the plaintiffs’ Zoloft lawyers intend to prepare all selected Trial Pool cases to proceed at that time. For now, the Special Master has essentially said, “Let’s agree to disagree” for the moment, allowing time for further negotiations to take place.