A class action lawsuit has been filed in St. Louis by a group of mothers who took the antidepressant Zoloft while pregnant, and gave birth to a child with birth defects. The lawsuit alleges Pfizer knew the dangers of Zoloft but hid information that showed all of the risks associated with taking the antidepressant during pregnancy.
Zoloft is known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressant (SSRI), a class of drugs that a growing body of research has linked to birth defects. Approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 1991, Zoloft is used to treat major depression (MDD), social anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, premenstrual dysphonic disorder (PMDD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in adults and children 6 to 17 years old.
The Zoloft class action was filed in St. Louis Circuit Court, and names Shainyah Lancaster as the lead plaintiff. According to the Madison-St. Clair Record, all of the plaintiffs claim they were prescribed Zoloft during their pregnancy, and that their children were born with severe medical defects, including damage to their hearts. The group accuses Pfizer of negligence, fraud, failing to warn the public and unjust enrichment. They are asking for more than $200,000 in actual damages, along with punitive damages and court costs.
The St. Louis lawsuit is one of dozens filed throughout the company by people who claim Zoloft caused birth defects. Last month, Pfizer filed a motion with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to have 59 Zoloft birth defect lawsuits consolidated in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) and transferred to the Southern District of New York, where Pfizer is headquartered. Pfizer also suggested that, as an alternative, the Northern District of Mississippi, the Southern District of Mississippi, or the Northern District of Ohio could also be suitable for the proposed Zoloft birth defect litigation.
However, lawyers representing several families in Zoloft birth defect lawsuits have filed motions opposing Pfizer’s request for consolidation. They claim Pfizer is attempting to move the lawsuits to a venue that it considers more favorable by improperly removing dozens of cases from state courts, creating the false impression that there are more cases than there really are in the federal court system. The filings assert that all but 10 of the Zoloft birth defect lawsuits identified by Pfizer should be remanded back to state courts where they were originally filed.
Many of the state cases are pending in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and name Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc., a Pennsylvania-based company that was allegedly responsible for the patient education monograph (PEM) that was included with Zoloft prescriptions, as a defendant. In their motions, plaintiffs also proposed that if the Zoloft lawsuits are consolidated in an MDL, the litigation be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. They also asked that all cases involving Wolters Kluwer Health be excluded from the MDL pending a resolution of motions to remand cases back to state court.
The Panel is expected to hear oral arguments on the motion to consolidate the Zoloft cases on March 29, in San Diego, California.