A panel of federal judges has decided that all Zoloft birth defect legal claims filed against Pfizer on the federal level will be consolidated before one judge as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL). The move affects nearly 100 lawsuits filed in a half dozen federal districts throughout the United States, as well as any new federal Zoloft birth defects cases filed in the future. Over the past several years, Zoloft has been increasingly linked to serious and potentially life-threatening birth defects including persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), spina bifida, heart and lung defects, abdominal defects, and other severe congenital malformations.
What’s the problem?
April 20, 2012 – On Wednesday, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation announced that it would consolidate all federal Zoloft lawsuits into an MDL to be overseen by U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The claims were brought on behalf of families of babies who were born with birth defects after the mothers took Zoloft while pregnant. The lawsuits allege that Pfizer was negligent in failing to warn the public and medical communities about the risk of congenital abnormalities associated with its blockbuster antidepressant.
Zoloft and other similar SSRIs have been linked to the following birth defects:
- 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
First approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 1991, Zoloft (generic: sertraline) is prescribed for the treatment of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCDs), and a variety of other serious psychological conditions. Within a decade of it being released, some 30 million prescriptions had been written for Zoloft, making it the best-selling antidepressant in the country.
When an MDL is formed, all lawsuits filed in federal court are centralized before a single judge for pre-trial proceedings. This is intended to prevent duplicate discovery and contrary decisions, and to move things as swiftly through the litigation process as possible. However, if the parties fail to reach a settlement or otherwise resolve the cases, they will be ordered back to their original jurisdiction for individual trials.