Zoloft birth injury litigation develops

Hundreds of lawsuits have alleged that mothers taking Zoloft and other antidepressants during pregnancies suffer birth injuries to their children. Now, a bellwether trial has been scheduled in multidistrict litigation.

U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe is presiding over 475 cases in the multidistict litigation in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She has scheduled the first bellwether trial for November 3, 2014.

The lawsuits allege that the plaintiffs’ use of Zoloft and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) caused their children to suffer birth injuries. The injuries included persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, which affects the heart and lungs and has a fatality rate of 10 percent. The injuries also included craniosynostosis, which is a cranial deformity that can cause seizures; omphalocele, a condition in which internal organs form outside an infant’s body; ventrical septal or atrial septal defects; and clubfoot.

Judge Rufe selected 25 cases to serve as bellwether trials in the multidistrict litigation. She is also presiding over another multidistrict litigation involving allegations that mothers’ use of Effexor caused their children to suffer birth injuries. There are 52 cases in that litigation.

Zoloft, also known as sertraline, was introduced by Pfizer in 1991 and is prescribed for depression as well as for panic, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

The cases add to concerns about the safety and effectiveness of SSRIs in treating depression, particularly among pregnant women.

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