June 17, 2014 — U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe has ordered that the first “bellwether” trials involving Effexor (venlafaxine) and birth defects will begin no later than November 2, 2015.
The order, dated June 11, also sets deadlines and rules for the production of documents, the deposition of witnesses, service of discovery, resolution of discovery disputes, and more.
At least 58 lawsuits have been centralized in a federal Multi-District Litigation (MDL) in federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Judge Rufe is also overseeing more than 500 lawsuits involving Zoloft (sertraline) birth defects.
Lawsuits involving Effexor birth defects have been centralized before Judge Rufe since August 2013. All of the lawsuits allege that drug-makers failed to warn that women who use antidepressants during pregnancy are more likely to have a baby with a birth defect. Plaintiffs cite recent studies linking Effexor and birth defects, including severe heart defects.
The “bellwether” trial process is useful when a large number of lawsuits are very similar. Lawyers use bellwether trials to gauge how a jury will respond to evidence and legal arguments. If the jury awards compensation, this is a good indication of how much other plaintiffs could potentially receive if their case went to trial.
Defendants who lose bellwether trials may decide to avoid additional trials by agreeing to a settlement. Even if plaintiffs lose a bellwether trial, this does not necessarily mean that they will not receive compensation. In some cases, defendants will agree to a settlement to avoid the time and expense of a long-running litigation.