March 13, 2012 – The number of Zoloft (sertraline) birth defects lawsuits filed in federal courts around the country continues to grow, increasing the likelihood that a panel of judges set to convene later this month will consolidate the cases into a multidistrict litigation (MDL) for pretrial proceedings. So far this year, more than a dozen new Zoloft birth defects lawsuits have been filed against Pfizer in at least eight different U.S. District Courts. In recent years, the maternal use of Zoloft during pregnancy has been associated with a high number of congenital abnormalities including persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN), spina bifida, heart and lung defects, cranial abnormalities, and other serious malformations.
What’s the problem?
In January 2012, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer filed a motion to have all Zoloft lawsuits consolidated and centralized into the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. At the time the motion was filed, 59 claims over Zoloft had been made in district courts throughout the country. However, plaintiffs have argued that approximately 50 of those cases were improperly transferred into the federal court system, leaving only a small number of cases for consolidation.
On March 29, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is scheduled to meet in San Diego, CA, to determine whether all Zoloft birth defects lawsuits should be consolidated into an MDL. Many plaintiffs have opposed the move, arguing that Pfizer improperly removed dozens of claims pending in Pennsylvania state court in order to create the impression that there were fewer cases than actually existed.
The growing number of lawsuits filed around the country is likely to be one of the deciding factors considered by the panel of judges, as the complaints all involve similar allegations that Pfizer failed to adequately research Zoloft and warn the public about the drug’s ability to harm unborn babies in utero.
Pfizer has petitioned to have the Zoloft birth defects litigation transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, a venue many believe would be more favorable to the drugmaker. Plaintiffs have argued that the lawsuits should be centralized in different federal district courts, with the majority favoring either the Southern District of Illinois or the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
First approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 1991, Zoloft is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) prescribed for the treatment of depression and other serious psychological disorders. By 2007, nearly 30 million prescriptions had been written for Zoloft, making it the most prescribed antidepressant in the country. Unfortunately, in recent years the drug has been increasingly linked to serious and potentially life-threatening birth defects when taken by expecting mothers during pregnancy (especially during the first trimester, a time when many women may still be unaware they are pregnant).
Birth defects associated with 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