September 10, 2012 – Parties involved with the federal Zoloft multidistrict litigation (MDL) are scheduled to meet today with a judge to discuss how the cases will proceed toward a resolution or trial. On the federal level, at least 140 Zoloft birth defect lawsuits have been filed in courthouses around the country on behalf of children who were allegedly born with birth defects after their mothers used the controversial antidepressant during pregnancy. According to a preliminary agenda, today’s meeting is expected to determine how records should be preserved and collected in the various cases, and to develop a discovery plan for plaintiff and defendant facts.
What’s the problem?
The conference is scheduled today to be overseen by U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where all federal Zoloft birth defect lawsuits have been consolidated into an MDL for pretrial handling.
Manufactured and marketed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Zoloft (generic: sertraline) is one of the best-selling antidepressants on the U.S. market. First approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 1991, Zoloft is typically prescribed to treat the symptoms of depression and other serious psychological disorders. However, over the past several years, the maternal use of Zoloft during pregnancy has been increasingly linked to a large number of serious, potentially life-threatening birth defects.
Congenital abnormalities linked to Zoloft have been reported to 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
In April 2012, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) ruled that all Zoloft birth defect lawsuits filed on the federal level will be centralized before Judge Rufe. MDLs are designed to prevent duplicative discovery, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings, and to serve the convenience of all parties involved in the litigation.
All of the lawsuits involve similar allegations that Pfizer knew – or should have known – about Zoloft’s potential to cause birth defects, but that it failed to warn the public and medical communities about these risks. When all is said and done, it is expected that hundreds, if not thousands, of additional claims will be filed against Pfizer in courthouses around the country involving Zoloft birth defects. As these complaints are submitted, they will eventually be transferred to the MDL.