On Thursday, January 8, 2015, U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who is presiding over the multi-district litigation involving prescription antidepressant Zoloft (sertraline hydrochloride), granted the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee’s motion for leave to identify and present a new general causation expert. Previously, the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (“PSC”) offered four witnesses to testify as to whether Zoloft caused birth defects in babies born to mothers who took the drug while pregnant, but the Court excluded the testimony.
In June 2014, after the first Daubert hearing (a proceeding conducted in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1993 decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, which set the standard for admitting expert testimony in federal courts), the Court barred the opinion of PSC’s expert from consideration by a jury. According to the Court, the expert presented, Dr. Anick Bérard, had “failed to base her opinion upon scientifically valid methodology and reasoning.” In a separate opinion, the Court also partially excluded the opinions of the PSC’s three other witnesses, Drs. Thomas Sadler, Robert Cabrera, and Michael Levin, concluding, “these experts could not testify that Zoloft caused birth defects in humans.”
In response to the Court’s Daubert rulings, the PSC sought to present the general causation testimony of Dr. Nicholas Jewell, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Unlike Dr. Bérard, whose research linked Zoloft to numerous birth defects, Dr. Jewell’s proposed testimony is based upon research connecting mothers who took Zoloft while pregnant with babies suffering from cardiac defects.
In permitting the testimony of Dr. Jewell, the Court acknowledged that Pfizer, the defendant in the litigation, could suffer some prejudice, but it was not of a character sufficient to warrant the denial of the PSC’s motion. Further, the Court claimed it must consider “the broader ramifications of barring an attempt to present Dr. Jewell,” and determined that the interests of justice “do not support such a step.”
This ruling significantly impacts the over 500 cases pending in the MDL against Pfizer, enabling the PSC to rectify, what the Court deemed as its past miscalculation of the persuasiveness of its expert.
The case is: In re: Zoloft (Sertraline Hydrochloride) Products Liability Litigation, Case No. 2:12-md-02342 (E.D. Pa.)
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