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First Case Management Takes Place in Zoloft MDL

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On April 17, 2012, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) ordered the consolidation of up to 100 Zoloft lawsuits concerning claims about the antidepressant and birth defects. At the time, approximately 57 cases were pending across seven districts, with an additional 35 making similar claims to be potentially marked as tag-along cases. Each lawsuit was to be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, under the management of Judge Cynthia Rufe.

On May 4, 2012, Judge Rufe issued an order scheduling the first status conference for Thursday, July 12, 2012.

One day before the status conference, plaintiff's counsel organized an HB Litigation Conference, which took place at Magna Legal Services in Philadelphia, and was simultaneously presented on live webcast. Defense counsel also attended the event. All parties expressed a high regard for Judge Rufe and her ability to move the cases forward effectively.

Zoloft Linked to Heart and Lung Defects

Zoloft (sertraline) was first approved by the FDA in December 1991 for the treatment of major depression in adults. It was later approved for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, along with panic and anxiety disorders. On June 30, 2005, the FDA released a public health advisory concerning the increased risk for suicidal thoughts and actions in adults being treated with antidepressants like Zoloft.

The following year, a New England Journal of Medicine study linked Zoloft with persistent pulmonary hypertension of a newborn (PPHN), a serious birth defect in which blood pressure in the arteries to the lungs becomes unusually high. Other studies followed, linking the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants like Zoloft to heart defects, brain defects, skull and limb defects, and abdominal defects.

Those parents who had given birth to children with birth defects began to file lawsuits to hold manufacturer Pfizer liable for damages. As the lawsuits increased, it became evident that consolidation would help to better manage them all.

HB Litigation Conference Discusses Science, Strategy and Settlement Opportunities

When the defendants filed a motion to consolidate all federal Zoloft lawsuits, some plaintiffs initially opposed, claiming that Pfizer had improperly removed more than 40 actions from state to federal court. The JPML concluded that consolidation was appropriate, stating that even though the various birth defects suffered by the plaintiffs varied, all actions would share discovery relating to general causation.

The agenda for the HB Litigation Conference that occurred on July 11, 2012, included sessions that discussed the history of Zoloft, the status of the MDL, screening for Zoloft lawsuits, supporting science concerning birth defects, and settlement opportunities.

Status Conference Scheduled to Get Things Rolling

At the July 12, 2012 case management conference, the parties met to suggest procedures that would facilitate the expeditious, economical and just resolution of Zoloft litigation. The judge directed each side to submit written statements by June 8th that would outline critical legal and factual issues. She also instructed each to propose a case management order. The parties ultimately filed a joint statement setting forth background information for the court, describing the litigation landscape. The submission was without prejudice and non-binding for either side and instead was meant to provide the court with background information to get her up to speed on the litigation.

To date, Pfizer has still failed to add adequate warnings to Zoloft's product label concerning birth defects. As the MDL continues to progress, it is expected that several more plaintiffs will join the proceedings, including individuals represented by Chaffin Luhana LLP.