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Pfizer Seeks MDL for Zoloft Birth Defect Lawsuits

Feb 8, 2012 | Parker Waichman LLP

A multidistrict litigation (MDL) could be on the horizon for dozens of Zoloft birth defect lawsuits currently pending in federal courts around the country.  Pfizer Inc., the maker of the popular selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant, is seeking to have the Zoloft birth defect litigation centralized in an MDL in U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, asserting that its proximity to three international al airports would make it convenient for plaintiffs.  Pfizer’s headquarters are also located there.

According to its motion, Pfizer is named as a defendant in 59 Zoloft birth defect lawsuits pending in federal courts in Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio.  All of the lawsuits allege that a mother's use of Zoloft in pregnancy can cause a child to be born with birth defects.  In its motion, 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.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is expected to hear oral arguments on the motion during a hearing scheduled to occur on May 31st in Washington, D.C.  If the Panel grants Pfizer's motion, the Zoloft birth defect lawsuits would 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.

Zoloft is approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) 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 OCD in 6 to 17 year olds. Zoloft was approved in 1991, and by 2007 there were nearly 30 million prescriptions, making it the most prescribed antidepressant in the U.S.

A growing number of studies have linked Zoloft use in pregnancy with serious birth defects, including persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN), heart defects, lung defects, abdominal defects, cranial defects and other malformations.

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