Plaintiffs suing Pfizer over claims that its Zoloft antidepressant medication
caused their children to suffer birth defects can present a key expert
witness thanks to a
ruling by the judge overseeing Zoloft multidistrict litigation in the U.S. District
Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
On January 7, U.S. District Court Judge Cynthia M. Rufe ruled that the
plaintiffs would be allowed to present the expert testimony of Dr. Nicholas
Jewell, a professor from the University of California at Berkeley.
According to the court, Jewell will be permitted to present his opinion
that children exposed to Zoloft
in utero may suffer congenital heart defects.
This is an important development. A
defective drug case often hinges on the ability to present expert witnesses who can explain
the connection between a drug and its alleged side effects, or "causation."
In April, Judge Rufe barred the plaintiffs from presenting a different
expert who would have played a role in establishing causation.
Zoloft Cases Consolidated for Pretrial Proceedings
Zoloft belongs to a class of antidepressant medications called SSRIs, or
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. The drug is prescribed to treat
depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
In recent years, people have filed lawsuits in state and federal courts
across the country against Zoloft's manufacturer, Pfizer, alleging
that Zoloft causes birth defects in children born to women who used the
drug while pregnant.
All Zoloft lawsuits filed in federal courts have been consolidated for
pretrial proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District
of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. This is known as a multidistrict litigation
case, or MDL. The Zoloft cases have been docketed as MDL No. 2342.
The purpose of a MDL is to avoid the risk of inconsistent rulings and cut
down on the expenses of litigation. Unlike a class-action case, each plaintiff
in a MDL maintains a separate, distinct lawsuit. Each lawsuit is ultimately
sent back to the federal court where it originated.
Even though Zoloft federal court claims have been consolidated, lawsuits
can continue to be filed in state courts.
Allowing Expert Witness Is Appropriate, Court Finds
The Legal Intelligencer explains, the parties in a case can challenge an expert's ability
to testify prior to trial in "Daubert hearings," a nickname
based on a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court decision on the admissibility of expert
testimony, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals.
In June, Judge Rufe ruled that a different expert witness presented by
the plaintiffs, Dr. Anick Berard, could not testify in the Zoloft cases.
The judge found that Dr. Berard had failed to base her opinion on "scientifically
valid methodology and reasoning."
The Legal Intelligencer reports that Dr. Berard had conducted research
linking Zoloft to numerous birth defects. Dr. Jewell, in contrast, will
testify solely on his research linking Zoloft to congenital heart defects
In her January 7 ruling, Judge Rufe held that Pfizer would be only slightly
prejudiced by allowing the plaintiffs to present Dr. Jewell's testimony.
Although Pfizer faced some additional expense from litigating the matter,
"this prejudice is not of a character sufficient to warrant denial"
of the plaintiff's motion to present Dr. Jewell as an expert witness,
the judge ruled.
The judge also found that the plaintiffs had not "acted in bad faith"
by failing to present Dr. Jewell as an expert at an earlier time.
Additionally, Judge Rufe noted the strong possibility that Dr. Jewell would
be presented as an expert witness in Zoloft cases currently pending in
state courts or in cases to be filed in the future.
"Pfizer likely must address his expert testimony at some point,"
the judge stated.
If you believe that your child has suffered birth defects that may be related
to Zoloft use,
contact The Maher Law Firm. We can provide a free review of your case and help
you to understand your legal rights and options.