According to recent court filings, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer is currently facing at least 95 Zoloft lawsuits filed on behalf of families of babies born with severe birth defects after being exposed to the controversial antidepressant in the womb. Pfizer has indicated that the number of claims filed over Zoloft have increased by more than 60% since the beginning of 2012, when the company filed a motion to have the Zoloft lawsuits consolidated into a multidistrict litigation (MDL). Over the past several years, Zoloft and other antidepressants from the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class have been linked to a large number of severe heart, lung and cranial birth defects.
What’s the problem?
March 28, 2012 – A panel of federal judges is scheduled to meet tomorrow in San Diego to hear oral arguments over whether to consolidate all federal Zoloft birth defects lawsuits into an MDL for pretrial proceedings.
In January, Pfizer requested to have 59 Zoloft claims pending in the federal system transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, arguing that an MDL would help reduce duplicate discovery, avoid conflicting results, and serve the convenience of all parties involved.
Several plaintiffs have argued that Pfizer improperly transferred dozens of claims from state courts to the federal system to create the false impression that there were more cases pending on the federal level, in order to get them transferred to a more favorable venue. The plaintiffs are arguing that 49 of the original 59 Zoloft birth defect lawsuits should be transferred back to the state courts where they were originally filed.
In response, Pfizer argued that while the original number of filings was more than sufficient to warrant the creation of an MDL, the skyrocketing rate of additional filings since January provides undeniable support for consolidation.
“The growing number of cases filed directly in federal court by plaintiffs also further dispels the notion, advanced by certain plaintiffs’ counsel, that Pfizer is seeking an MDL based on an artificially inflated federal docket,” wrote the company in a March 22 supplemental filing.
Zoloft Birth Defects
All of the lawsuits pending against Pfizer involve similar allegations that the company failed to adequately warn the public and medical communities that the use of Zoloft during pregnancy may increase the risk of birth defects (especially when taken during the first trimester, a time when many women may still be unaware they are pregnant). Congenital abnormalities currently linked to Zoloft include:
- Atrial Septal Defects (ASD)
- Ventricular Septal Defects (VSD)
- Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN)
- Tricuspid Valve (Ebstein’s Anomaly)
- Mitral Valve Prolapse
- Transposition of the Great Arteries (TGA)
- Transposition of the Great Vessels (TGV)
- Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF)
- Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS)
- Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome (HRHS)
- Tricuspid Atresia
- Aortic Stenosis
- Pulmonary Atresia (PA)
- Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA)
- Coarctation of the Aorta
- Truncus Arteriosus
- Tricuspid Valve Stenosis
- Heart Murmur
- Pulmonary Stenosis
- Gastroschisis – abdominal wall defect
- Esophageal Stenosis
- Anal Atresia
- Spina Bifida