Pfizer Moves to Consolidate Zoloft Birth Defect Lawsuits

A growing number of Zoloft birth defect lawsuits have prompted Pfizer Inc., the maker of the drug, to request that all federal complaints be consolidated in a multidistrict litigation. Last month, the drug maker filed a motion with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to have Zoloft birth defect lawsuits transferred to the Southern District of New York, where Pfizer is headquartered.

According to Pfizer, there are currently 59 lawsuits involving Zoloft, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant, which involve common claims and questions of fact. All of the cases subject to Pfizer’s motion allege that children were born with birth defects due their mothers’ use of Zoloft during pregnancy. Zoloft birth defect lawsuits are currently pending against Pfizer in Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio.

Pfizer contends that the Southern District of New York would be suitable for the Zoloft birth defect litigation because New York has three international airports in its vicinity, making it a convenient venue for plaintiffs throughout the country. 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 MDL.

An MDL allows lawsuits associated with a particular product to be coordinated under one judge for pretrial litigation to avoid duplicative discovery, inconsistent rulings and to conserve the resources of the parties, witnesses and the court. When lawsuits are consolidated as a multidistrict litigation, each retains its own identity. If the multidistrict litigation process does not resolve the cases, they are transferred back to the court where they originated for trial.

A growing body of research has tied Zoloft and other SSRI antidepressants to an increased risk of birth defects when they are used in pregnancy, especially the earliest stages when many women are unaware that they are pregnant. In July 2006, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) warned that women who use the antidepressant Zoloft after the 20th week of pregnancy are six times more likely to give birth to a child with persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN). The FDA issued this warning about Zoloft based on the results of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that examined the risk of birth defects with Zoloft and similar antidepressants.

Since then, more evidence has accumulated linking Zoloft to birth defects, including a study published last month by researchers in Sweden linking SSRI antidepressants to PPHN, and another published over the summer that linked Zoloft and other SSRIs to an increased risk of autism.

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