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Mom Has Options for Suit Over Fatal Birth Defects

(CN) - State court is still open to woman who blames her baby's fatal heart defects on her use during the pregnancy of antidepressants, a federal judge ruled.

Erica Atkinson sued Forest Research Institute Inc., Forest Laboratories Inc., and Forest Pharmaceuticals Inc. in 2013.

According to the federal complaint in Camden, N.J., Atkinson had been taking Forest-manufactured antidepressants, Lexapro and/or Celexa, as prescribed by a doctor, while pregnant in 2010-11.

Weeks after her daughter, Sophia Cowan, was born with atrioventricular canal defects in Indiana on July 14, 2011, the baby died on Aug. 7, allegedly as a result of the complications.

Atkinson sought punitive damages for claims including fraud and wrongful death. Her case was soon assigned to a "master docket" coordinating the pretrial activities of several similar suits against Forest alleging birth defects caused by Lexapro and Celexa.

On June 19, 2014, a day after U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler refused to dismiss Atkinson's case, the parties in the master docket agreed to conduct early discovery and summary-judgment proceedings on a pool of six cases.

Atkinson's case was not among the six, and 15 of the other cases were remanded to state court. The remaining four were dismissed for various reasons.

Kugler granted Atkinson's motion to dismiss her case on Wednesday, noting that thus far, no discovery has been conducted, and no depositions have been taken or even scheduled.

"To date, neither party has apparently expended significant effort or expense preparing this case for trial," Kugler wrote. "As noted above, discovery so far has been minimal. No trial date has been set, and no dispositive motions are pending."

The judge later added: "Whatever efforts and costs incurred by defendants in this case that could be deemed wasted are not substantial enough to provide grounds to deny plaintiff's motion."

State court should remain available to Atkinson, since she "apparently originally filed in this district to participate in the consolidated litigation established by this court," Kugler wrote.

"That objective is clearly no longer possible at this time," he noted. "There is no longer a core discovery pool to participate in, and plaintiff wishes to proceed in another venue where she can consolidate [her] claims with other similarly-situated plaintiffs."

Any work that Forest did so far on this case will not be wasted if Atkinson refiles in another court, the judge found.

"The court anticipates that if plaintiff does in fact refile in a court where it can consolidate litigation, defendants may have to readdress some of these issues, but this should still save time and money overall," Kugler wrote.

The judge refused to reimburse Forest any costs or attorneys' fees.

Actavis, which acquired Forest last year, reportedly earned more than $4.63 billion in revenue in 2014.

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