A jury trial was wrapped up recently after lasting a little more than a week in state court in St. Louis after the jury found in favor of Pfizer. The lawsuit alleged that Logyn Pesante, an eleven year old boy from California, who developed heart problems after his mother ingested Zoloft during her pregnancy.
This lawsuit was filed in 2012 as a part of a consolidated lawsuit that includes damages claims filed by a 20 children (and their parents) who allege similar claims that their cardiac and skeletal birth defects were caused by their mothers’ use of Zoloft (also known as sertraline) during pregnancy and that the drug’s manufacturer (Pfizer) failed to provide proper warnings to prescribing physicians and their patients. This is the first individual case to proceed to trial against Pfizer with regard to Zoloft, and was a case chosen by the plaintiffs for the first trial.
There have been other SSRI anti-depressant birth defect cases that have proceeded to trial in over jurisdictions over the past several months. Pfizer is also scheduled to defend its next Zoloft birth defect trial in state court in Philadelphia in May of 2015 in the case of plaintiff Mia Robinson. There is also a much-anticipated, bellwether trial scheduled in the MDL proceedings based in federal court in Philadelphia in January of 2016 before United States District Court Judge Cynthia M. Rufe. Last year, Judge Rufe entered an order refusing to permit some of the expert witness testimony on the incidence of birth defects and evaluation of epidemiological and statistical data on which the plaintiffs rely to prove their cases against Pfizer.
Pfizer’s primary defense in this case, as well as in all of the other lawsuits pending against the pharmaceutical giant, is that birth defects are more common than most patients understand (occurring in 3 to 5% of births) , and that these particular birth defects would have occurred, even if Zoloft had not been ingested during the pregnancy. Pfizer also supports its defense in these cases by contending that the overall rate of birth defects in the general population has not changed since use of anti-depressants, including during pregnancy, has become commonplace over the past few decades. Pfizer first began selling Zoloft in the United States in the early 1990s. Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that congenital heart defects are the most common birth defects that occur in nearly 1% of the 4 million births each year in the United States. Plaintiffs’ claims are supported by other studies which show evidence of an increased incidence of birth defects, and inconsistencies in the strengthening of warning labels over the years amongst the various manufacturers of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) anti-depressant drugs, a class that includes Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, and others.