On February 21, 2014, Judge Lucy H. Koh of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed a Zoloft lawsuit because the statute of limitations barred the action, reported Harris Martin. The complaint had asked the judge to approve two class action lawsuits, one for California residents who took Zoloft and another for all users in the United States.
Plaintiff Laura a Plumlee and her Zoloft injury lawyer and filed their complaint against Pfizer – the manufacturers of Zoloft – on January 30, 2013. She claimed that Pfizer misled her and her doctor “into prescribing Zoloft because he had been led to believe it was more effective in treating depression that it actually is.”
Pfizer disputes charges in Zoloft lawsuit
Mrs. Plumlee began taking the medication in March 2005 and continued using Zoloft until August 2006, when she switched to the generic of version of the antidepressant. She used the generic of Zoloft until June 2008. The claimant stated in her pleadings that before she began taking Zoloft she had seen many advertisements on television “touting” the effectiveness of the antidepressant.
In an interview with USA Today, Mrs. Plumlee explains she saw a show on 60 Minutes in 2012 with Irving Kirsch whose research indicated that patients improved the most because of the placebo effect. The placebo effect is when patients feel better because they believe the medicine is working accompanied with care from medical personnel. The plaintiff’s attorney further clarifies the allegations against Pfizer, “It’s about Pfizer deliberately withholding this information from consumers and then advertising this drug as very effective.”
In this case, when the statute of limitations began was the main question for the judge. If the judge decides the plaintiff knew or should have known about the studies that showed Zoloft was no better than placebo in 2010, when many of the studies were revealed, the case would be dismissed. However, if the plaintiff could show that she did not know about the studies until much later (within the statute of limitations), the case would likely have moved forward.
Zoloft claims are time-barred by statute of limitations
It is not clear whether or not Mrs. Plumlee shared her revelation concerning Zoloft while watching 60 Minutes in 2012 in her complaint. The judge did not seem to know about the 60 Minutes program, which is evident by her statements within the ruling, “Plaintiff merely pleads that ‘in early 2012, Plaintiff discovered that Pfizer had misrepresented Zoloft’s efficacy, stating that it was more effective than it actually was. Plaintiff learned that the majority of clinical trials related to Zoloft’s efficacy had shown it is no better than placebo.’ This sole allegation does not reveal the time and manner of her discovery of the alleged misrepresentation other than that it was in ‘early 2012.’
The judge goes on to point out that the plaintiff did not give reasons why she did not know about the studies sooner, nor why she was unable to learn of the companies alleged misrepresentations and omissions until 2012. “However, the judge granted the plaintiff leave to cure these deficiencies,” states Harris Martin.
A Texas mother has demanded that Pfizer be held liable for her daughter’s birth defects. On February 18, 2014, she filed a lawsuit that fingers the company’s popular antidepressant as the cause of serious Zoloft pregnancy complications, including brain damage. Pursuant to a pretrial order, the lawsuit was transferred to the multidistrict litigation (MDL), which is proceeding in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The Honorable Judge Cynthia M. Rufe is presiding.
The MDL is a type of mass litigation that was formed in April 2012 by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML). At the time of its formation, it centralized more than 90 lawsuits around the country, all filed against Pfizer with regard to the dangerous complications of Zoloft.
Since then, many more complaints have been added to the MDL. Like the mother from Texas, the plaintiffs in the MDL share similar allegations, including the association of the SSRI antidepressant with heart defects, omphalocele, craniosynotosis, and persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN).
Minor child diagnosed with multiple birth defects
Zoloft (sertraline hydrochloride) is a type of antidepressant designed and manufactured by Pfizer for the purpose of treating depression, anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that works by balancing serotonin levels in the brain. Although it may work well in some patients, Zoloft has been linked to serious side effects in newborns.
The plaintiff from Texas gave birth to her daughter on January 31, 2005. The mother had used Zoloft during her pregnancy as prescribed by her doctor and she was allegedly unaware of the potential for harm to the fetus. Shortly after birth, the minor child was diagnosed with multiple birth defects. She has encephalopathy, which refers to malfunction, damage, or disease of the brain. The specifics of the minor child’s challenges were not disclosed; however, this condition may cause mild to severe symptoms, including memory loss, personality changes, dementia, coma, seizures, and even death.
The minor child also has auditory neuropathy, a type of hearing impairment in which the inner ear receives sounds, but the nerve cannot process the sounds normally. The degree of hearing impairment can range from mild to profound; it may give rise to academic difficulties, and speech and language delays. There is no cure available for auditory neuropathy; the child is expected to require hearing aids or a cochlear implant. Auditory neuropathy is sometimes caused by hyperbilirubinemia, another condition that the minor child was diagnosed with at birth. Hyperbilirubinemia, or newborn jaundice, occurs when the baby’s bilirubin levels are abnormally high.
Lawsuit alleges negligence in failure to warn
According to this plaintiff’s Zoloft lawsuit, Pfizer knew or should have known of the risk of pregnancy complications when the antidepressant was taken by an expectant mother. The complaint alleges that because of pre-clinical studies and published research, Pfizer knew that the drug crosses the placenta and had already been associated with serious birth defects in the children of the mothers who used it. Despite having access to this information, the complaint states that Pfizer failed to warn patients and physicians about these serious risks.
The defendants “negligently, intentionally, and fraudulently misled the medical community, physicians, the mother plaintiff’s physicians, and (the) plaintiff about the risks to a fetus,” states the complaint. Furthermore, the lawsuit contends that Pfizer disseminated misleading and incomplete warnings about the product, and that they failed to issue strong enough warnings on the product’s labeling information.
A federal District Court has remanded a Zoloft birth defect lawsuit back to the state court for the second time in West Virginia.
In July 2012, 19 plaintiffs’ filed a single lawsuit against Pfizer and its subsidiaries for failing to warn about Zoloft pregnancy risks. Specifically, the claimants allege the drug is defective, dangerous to human health, unfit and unsuitable to be marketed and sold, and lacks the proper warnings regarding the dangers of its use.
History of the West Virginia Zoloft birth defects lawsuit
Per West Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure 3(a), each plaintiff was assigned a separate case number for administrative purposes. On October 18, the circuit court of West Virginia entered an order consolidating all 19 lawsuits under one civil action number – No. 12-C-146.
Before the consolidation order was entered in August 2012, Pfizer attorney’s filed a “Notice of Removal” for 18 of the lawsuits. Excluding the Dropp party, who failed to meet the diversity jurisdiction requirements because they lived in New York, which is the residence of Pfizer. For the defendant to remove a state lawsuit to federal court, they must show that the federal court has jurisdiction.
The defendant argued that the federal courts had jurisdiction because the state created separate actions, thereby each case could be removed where diversity exists. Alternatively, they argued that the only party that lived in New York was fraudulently joined. If any plaintiff shares residence with any defendant, diversity jurisdiction will not apply for the West Virginia Zoloft lawsuits.
The plaintiffs argued that all of the claimants were filed under one action and that it is improper to remove parts of a complaint. In other words, all of the plaintiffs listed must be removed. If the defendant’s removed all the families, including the New York resident, Pfizer could not meet the diversity jurisdiction requirements.
In September 2012, District Judge Robert C. Chambers granted the plaintiffs’ motion to remand the lawsuits back to West Virginia Circuit Court; finding “that Plaintiffs had filed a single action in state court—the nature of which was unchanged by Rule 3(a)—and that Plaintiffs’ claims were properly joined”.
The defendant appealed to the Federal Appellate Court. In July 2013, in an unanimous decision, the Appellate Court refused to hear arguments concerning Pfizer’s appeal because they lacked the authority to review the federal district court’s decision.
Pfizer attempts to remove lawsuit to federal court a second time
On October 18, 2013, 6 additional parties’ filed a similar Zoloft birth defect lawsuit in West Virginia Circuit Court. As with the 19 previous plaintiffs, the court assigned separate case numbers per civil rule 3(a). On the same day, the court entered an order consolidating all of the lawsuits under the same case number; citing that both complaints raise similar questions, facts and allegations concerning Zoloft pregnancy risks – thereby creating one lawsuit with 25 plaintiffs.
On October 28, 2013, Pfizer filed a “Notice of Removal” for the second time. However, they only included the 19 original plaintiffs but not the 6 new families. Pfizer argued that the Dropp party were fraudulently joined and filed a cross motion to dismiss their claim. They also argued that the state’s combining the 25 lawsuits were not a true consolidation.
The plaintiffs filed a “Motion to Remand,” arguing that the defendant’s removal was improper because they only removed some of the claimant families. Counsel further argued that one of the additional plaintiffs is a resident of New York, which defeats diversity jurisdiction enabling the federal court to handle the lawsuit.
According to the rules that govern removing a lawsuit to federal court – 28 U.S.C. § 1332 and 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) – only an entire complaint can be removed, and all plaintiffs must be residents of a different state than the defendants.
Judge Robert C. Chambers determined “This Court cannot and will not convert the clear consolidation of multiple cases into one civil action by a state court into something that it is not.” He further states, “Were the error cured and all of the twenty-five Plaintiff families removed, diversity clearly would not exist.”
On February 5, 2014, Judge Chambers ordered the case remanded back to West Virginia state court. Pfizer’s cross motion to dismiss the Dropp family was stricken because the Federal District court lacked jurisdiction to hear the matter.
Depression during pregnancy affects 14-23 percent of expecting women, according to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). The anticipated birth of a child is one of the most joyous occasions in a woman’s life, but this time may be overshadowed by feelings of anxiety, sadness and hopelessness.
Fortunately, such symptoms can be managed through counseling, psychotherapy and – in some instances – prescription medications. While there is some controversy regarding the safety of antidepressants and pregnancy, particularly when taken during the last two trimesters, these risks may outweigh benefits for those who suffer severe depression.
Symptoms treatment of depression during pregnancy
For some expectant women, early signs of antepartum depression may be blamed on hormonal fluctuations. While hormone changes can impact moods and increase stress and anxiety, those who experience the following symptoms for more than two weeks should seek counseling for a definitive diagnosis.
Early signs of depression during pregnancy:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Unexplained and persistent feelings of sadness
- Problems with sleep
- Loss of interest in activities that you usually enjoy
- Excessive anxiety
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Change in eating habits
- Suicidal ideation or recurring feelings of hopelessness
The problem for pregnant women lies in untreated depression that can spiral into an unhealthy pattern of drinking, smoking, eating poorly and suicidal behavior – all of which can affect the fetus, causing low birth weight, prematurity and developmental issues.
“For mild or moderate depression, I’d rather use psychotherapy or group therapy than antidepressants,” says Dr. Victoria Hendrick, assistant professor at UCLA’s department of psychiatry and bio-behavioral sciences. Support groups, private counseling and “light therapy” are all proven methods for addressing symptoms of moderate depression. Additionally, regular exercise, a balanced and nutritious diet and sufficient sleep are also effective in helping women battle feelings of despair and sadness.
Are antidepressants safe for my unborn baby?
In cases involving major depression, some doctors may recommend a combination of professional counseling and daily antidepressants, usually from the class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). However, there remains significant debate as to the risks of antidepressants like Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro and others to the health of an unborn child as all medications cross the placental barrier during pregnancy.
Some research has shown that when taken during pregnancy SSRIs put women at greater risk for having children born with low APGAR scores, low birth weight, and in more serious cases—heart malformations and birth defects. However, many in the medical community disagree about the safety profile of antidepressants during pregnancy, as other trials indicate that the risk of congenital defects is relatively low.
In 2006, the FDA issued a safety communication on Paxil use and the increased risk of neonatal persistent pulmonary hypertension, citing a case-controlled study in which women who the SSRI after the 20th week of pregnancy were six times more likely to have a baby with PPHN.
Zoloft, Paxil and Prozac have also been associated with withdrawal problems in newborns, with babies suffering jitteriness, vomiting and other symptoms shortly after birth.
As with any major medical decision, it’s important that expecting women suffering from depression speak with their physicians about the risks and benefits of antidepressant use while pregnant. An in-depth discussion should include your options for medications and the long-term side effects and risks entailed.