Updated: May 26, 2015
US District Judge Cynthia Rufe in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania who has been overseeing federal multidistrict litigation of Zoloft lawsuits since April 2012 has scheduled the first bellwether trial for early 2016. There are now 545 product liability complaints pending throughout the federal court system making similar allegations that drug maker Pfizer failed to warn consumers about potential adverse side effects of Zoloft in pregnant women.
Zoloft lawsuits have been filed by the families of children born with severe physical birth defects including cardiac defects, spinal malformation, pulmonary hypertension, lung, abdominal, and cranial defects among others; all allegedly stemming from exposure to the antidepressant during pregnancy.
In a pretrial order issued on April 1, 2015, Judge Rufe states that she will be determining the order in which these trials will go forward by the end of the month. The parties involved will then review expert discovery and challenge admissibility of testimony over the remainder of the year with trials set to begin on January 19, 2016. The outcomes of these early trials will not be binding on other claims, but, may lead to settlement out of court, or otherwise expedite the legal process.
The second bellwether trial begins at the end of May 2015, in a Pennsylvania state court. The pressure on plaintiffs is considerable following a victory for Zoloft maker Pfizer in a similar case before a court in St. Louis in April. Judge Rufe has upheld her restriction of three experts and rejected that of a fourth meant to substantiate the plaintiffs’ causation argument. Court observers believe that the reception expert testimony receives in the Pennsylvania trial may impact whether or not it will be admissible in the MDL.
“If the plaintiffs can demonstrate that the evidence has been sufficient to persuade a state court jury of the defects of the drug, that may go far in persuading the MDL judge to permit similar testimony in the federal cases,” said Alan Klein of Duane Morris LLP. “So what happens next will be very important.”
In November 2006, the FDA added warnings about the elevated risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns stemming from exposure to Zoloft during pregnancy. Then, in June 2007 and September 2009, studies were published linking the use of antidepressants such as Zoloft to abnormal physical development, particularly when exposed during the first trimester.