Pfizer lawyers get to see Zoloft MDL expert’s past report

The federal judge overseeing Zoloft birth defect litigation in the national Zoloft multidistrict litigation (MDL) ruled that the defendant drug company could see an expert’s report from another case that is also underway. However, access to the report is not likely to matter much.

Plaintiff lawyers alleging Zoloft caused birth defects in babies born to mothers using the SSRI antidepressant will have to turn over the same expert’s report used in a similar lawsuit alleging birth defects from using Prozac.

U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia ruled that both the report and testimony given by Dr. Nicholas Jewell in the Prozac case in the Western District of North Carolina must be turned over by Thursday. Judge Rufe is presiding over at least 600 cases brought against Pfizer, which makes Zoloft. The cases had been consolidated in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in her court.

The North Carolina suit, however, was brought by a single plaintiff against Eli Lilly & Co., which makes Prozac. The two cases share several of the same plaintiffs lawyers.

Dr. Jewell is the second expert the plaintiffs have used in the national Zoloft MDL. Their first causation expert, Anick Bérard, was thrown out after a Daubert hearing. Daubert hearings allow parties to challenge the testimony of expert witnesses before the start of a trial.

The hearing challenging Jewell’s conclusions is set for July 7 and is likely to last a week. Jewell’s area of expertise is cardiovascular defects. The use of a second expert witness after the first one has been tossed is considered an unusual strategy for a plaintiff, but in this case the court found that the lawyers for the plaintiffs had acted in good faith.

Plaintiff attorneys associated with both Zoloft and Prozac cases argued that its depositions and report are confidential and fall under a protective order. However, the judge agreed with Pfizer’s motion to compel argument that the plaintiff’s contentions were implausible: “Dr. Jewell is a general causation expert who presents a statistical analysis of data. He typically does not review or discuss plaintiff-specific information or medical records and has not done so in this matter. His opinions in the Prozac litigation, as they are in this litigation, are presumably based primarily upon publicly available, peer-reviewed literature,” the Pfizer motion stated.

Judge Rufe ordered the plaintiffs to turn over the report with portions redacted to protect personal health information. The majority of the Zoloft cases allege heart defects in babies.

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