In July 2012, nineteen plaintiffs filed Zoloft birth defect lawsuits in Wayne Circuit Court in West Virginia. Each lawsuit seeks to hold Pfizer, Zoloft’s manufacturer, liable for birth defects allegedly caused by ingestion of the antidepressant during pregnancy.
Zoloft was introduced to the market in 1991, and approved by the FDA to treat depression. The drug was later approved to treat panic disorder, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Post-marketing reports and subsequent lawsuits, however, have indicated that the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medication may be linked to an increased risk of heart, brain, lung, and other birth defects when taken by pregnant women.
Nineteen Plaintiffs Claim Birth Defects
The nineteen plaintiffs who filed lawsuits in West Virginia allege that after taking the antidepressant during pregnancy, they gave birth to children suffering from various birth defects. The birth defects include atrial and septal heart defects, holes in the heart, persistent pulmonary hypertension of a newborn (PPHN), neural tube defects, craniofacial defects and other malformations. The plaintiffs claim that Pfizer was aware of the link between Zoloft and the risk of birth defects, yet Pfizer failed to adequately warn physicians and expectant mothers.
These types of birth defects often require multiple surgeries and ongoing medical care. Parents claim that their minor children have suffered and will continue to suffer injuries, damages, and losses. The plaintiffs seek both compensatory and punitive damages.
FDA Warns of Potential Link Between Zoloft and Birth Defects
In 2006 , the FDA first warned of a possible connection between Zoloft and possible birth defects. That year, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that found women who took Zoloft during pregnancy had a higher than normal rate of infants born with (PPHN), a dangerous condition that interferes with circulatory health and the infant’s ability to breathe.
A short time later, other studies linked the use of SSRI antidepressants, like Zoloft, with heart defects, brain defects, skull and limb defects, and abdominal defects.
In 2009, a study in the British Journal of Medicine reported that the use of Zoloft during the first trimester of pregnancy increased the risk of atrial septal heart defects. These defects result when the heart does not develop normally, and the infant is born with holes in the upper chambers, leading to fatigue, shortness of breath, and lack of appetite.
Recent Study Illuminates Other Risks
A more recent study published in 2012 in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology also linked the use of antidepressants during pregnancy to certain risks. Researchers found that among nearly 229,000 infants, those whose mothers used antidepressants during the second trimester were more at risk for preterm birth. Mothers who took the antidepressants during pregnancy were also at a higher risk for giving birth to a baby of smaller size, and having a baby who suffered a seizure.
On April 12, 2012, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all federal Zoloft lawsuits into one court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Other cases, like the nineteen mentioned here, continue to be filed in state courts across the country.