Oklahoma mother files Zoloft claim in Phila. federal court

By Jon Campisi | Apr 2, 2013

An Oklahoma mother has filed a complaint in the Multidistrict Zoloft Marketing

Products Liability Litigation consolidated at the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia over allegations that her ingestion of the antidepressant during pregnancy caused her son to develop serious birth defects.

Torrie Johnson asserts in her civil action that Pfizer, the makers of Zoloft, committed various acts of negligence in failing to warn pregnant woman that taking the pharmaceutical could cause congenital defects in fetuses.

The suit contends that Pfizer negligently and intentionally designed, manufactured, distributed and sold Zoloft without appropriate safeguards and warnings to the consuming public that the drug should not be taken during pregnancy because of its serious teratogenic effects.

The plaintiff alleges that her son suffered from birth defects including congenital endocardial cushion defect, a heart murmur, congestive heart failure, failure to thrive and a general developmental delay.

At three months of age, the suit states, Johnson’s son, identified only as “E.C.,” was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and failure to thrive, and he subsequently had to undergo a surgical procedure to repair an atrioventricular defect, although his doctors continued to detect mitral regurgitation thereafter.

During E.C.’s eighth month of life, the complaint says, he was observed by his physician to be in the 10th percentile or below in terms of body weight, and he remained unable to gain weight through his 16th month.

During that time period, the boy’s activity was so low, that he couldn’t even hold his head up when on his belly, he slept too much, choked often and seemed to have trouble catching his breath, the complaint alleges.

The child was described as having poor muscle tone and as being unable to bear weight.

His head also “lagged” when he was pulled by his arms from a lying position, the suit states.

In his 25th month of life, the complaint says, E.C. was still unable to put on sufficient weight, and his diagnosis of failure to thrive was reiterated.

A murmur has also been detected at each of his doctor’s visits.

Zoloft is a drug designed to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, panic attacks, posttraumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder.

The lawsuit claims that Pfizer failed to test the drug’s effects on pregnant women or their unborn children, and that during its promotional activities of the medication, the drug giant did not discourage the use of Zoloft in pregnant woman.

In fact, the drug company encouraged doctors to prescribe Zoloft to women of childbearing age, the complaint asserts, as well as to women who were trying to conceive, and those who were already pregnant.

After Pfizer had been selling the drug for years, the suit states, independent scientists began conducting studies to determine the drug’s association with birth defects, although Pfizer didn’t perform similar studies.

“Had Pfizer engaged in appropriate pharmacovigilance, they would have been aware of the numerous cases of birth defects caused by Zoloft prior to the time Plaintiff was prescribed Zoloft,” the complaint reads.

The suit says the current Zoloft warning label still does not warn doctors or patients about the increased risk of serious malformations and other birth defects seen in babies whose mothers took Zoloft while pregnant.

The suit accuses the drug company of concealing the risks, and overstating the benefits, of the antidepressant.

The suit contains counts of strict product liability, breach of implied warranty, negligence, negligence per se, malicious conduct, unjust enrichment, and fraud, misrepresentation and concealment.

Johnson seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as treble damages, disgorgement of profits, costs, attorneys’ fees and other court relief.

Johnson is being represented by Colorado attorneys Joi G. Kush and Perry R. Sanders, Jr., of the Sanders Law Firm, as well as Baton Rouge, LA attorneys Denise Vinet, Justin Day, and Peyton Murphy.

The federal case number is 2:13-cv-01652-CMR.

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