Court Allows Plaintiffs to Present Birth Defects Expert in Zoloft MDL

Court Allows Plaintiffs to Present Birth Defects Expert in Zoloft MDL

Posted By The Maher Law Firm || 14-Jan-2015

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

As 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 children.

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.

Categories: Dangerous Drugs
Blog Home