Zoloft, manufactured by Pfizer, Inc., is one of the most prescribed antidepressants and anxiety medications in the United States, with over 37 prescriptions in 2011 alone according to IMS Health. Concerns about the link between Zoloft and birth defects began in 2006, when the FDA issued a warning that mothers who took selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Zoloft after their 26th week of pregnancy were six times more likely to have persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN) than infants born to mothers who did not take SSRIs during pregnancy. Since 2006, studies have linked SSRIs with to a variety of birth defects, including but not limited to abnormal skull development and brain hemorrhage.
Multi-District Litigation against Pfizer
Lawsuits against Pfizer for birth defects as a result of Zoloft are pending in a variety of jurisdictions.
Over 430 birth defect lawsuits against Pfizer have been consolidated in multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The MDL started in April 2012 with only 92 cases and has since grown rapidly to 430 cases, including the addition of several cases from Illinois.
The Pennsylvania Record reports that a Zoloft birth defect case with plaintiffs from Cook County, Illinois, has been filed with the MDL in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs allege that their infant son was born with severe birth defects and subsequently died as a result of his mother taking Zoloft during pregnancy. The lawsuit includes a claim for punitive damages and alleges strict product liability, negligence, negligent design, constructive fraud, breach of express and implied warranties, gross negligence/malice, and fraud, misrepresentation and suppression.
The Zoloft Lawsuit Center reports that another Illinois couple has also joined with the MPL against Zoloft manufacturer Pfizer, claiming failure to warn, product design defect, negligence, constructive fraud, malice, pecuniary loss, and infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit alleges damages for medical costs related to the infant’s club feet, pain and suffering, and for the lost wages and earning power of the mother.
Parties to the MDL have agreed that the cases should be narrowed to a pool of 25 “bellwether cases.” These cases will go to trial first, and will likely set a precedent for the rest of the Zoloft birth defect cases. Trials for the bellwether cases are scheduled to begin on October 13, 2014.
Illinois State Court Litigation against Pfizer
Not all Zoloft birth defects suits have been filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as part of the MDL. Several will be heard by Illinois state courts instead. Two cases involving Zoloft birth defects, Wilson, et al. v. Pfizer and Saville, et al. v. Pfizer, are pending before St. Clair County Circuit Court. Another case involving 38 families, Reeves et al. v. Pfizer, has also been remanded to St. Clair County, pending appeal.
Although much of the birth defect litigation against Zoloft manufacturer Pfizer is currently pending, related lawsuits over birth defects caused by the antidepressant Paxil have helped to provide some relief for the families of child victims. According to Bloomberg, lawsuits against Paxil’s manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline Plc resulted in over $1 billion in compensation to help restore the families of children with birth defects.
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