On April 17, 2012, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPMDL) announced that 92 pending Zoloft birth defect lawsuits would be centralized in a Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania before Judge Cynthia M. Rufe.
The order to centralize the litigation into an MDL came despite 45 filed objections from plaintiffs. However, the JPMDL decided that the cases all involved common issues, and centralization would be more convenient for the parties involved. Large, multi-state litigation is often centralized in an MDL to increase efficiency, reduce costs, ensure discovery is not duplicated, and reduce the chances that multiple lower courts will deliver conflicting judgements.
There are 57 federal lawsuits in six district courts, and 35 other actions in other federal courts regarding the Zoloft birth defect dispute. These cases will all be consolidated in one Zoloft MDL.
Plaintiffs allege that Zoloft (sertraline), an SSRI antidepressant manufactured by Pfizer Inc., has been linked to severe, life-threatening birth defects when a mother uses this drug during pregnancy. Plaintiffs accuse Pfizer of failing to warn about the risk of this side effect.
The claims are similar to those made in the Paxil birth defect litigation, which is now nearly complete. There are also claims that other SSRI antidepressants (including Celexa, Lexapro, and Prozac) can also cause birth defects when they are taken during pregnancy.
The JPMDL said that the venue was chosen because more than half of the Zoloft birth defect lawsuits were filed in Pennsylvania. In a statement, they said “It appears likely that additional actions will be filed in the future.”
As the Zoloft birth defect litigation continues, it is possible that hundreds or thousands more women will come forward seeking damages for Zoloft injuries. At least 12 different scientific studies have linked SSRI antidepressants to an increased risk of birth defects. Zoloft has been specifically associated with increased risks of heart defects, abdominal defects, cranial defects, Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN), and more.