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Birth Defect Lawsuit Filed in Texas Related to Antidepressant Zoloft

A lawsuit was filed on behalf of the parents of a child who they say was born with a number of heart defects, which resulted from the use of Zoloft. This drug is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) used to treat depression and/or anxiety. Although some research has indicated there could be a link between the use of Zoloft during pregnancy and persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn or heart defects of the septum, these links have yet to be confirmed. The risks now appear to be very low, but some risk means there could be some danger.

The lawsuit filed in a Texas district court claimed the drug company Pfizer was aware of Zoloft’s potential side effects, or should have been. It says the drug manufacturer did not properly warn the public of potential side effects such as heart defects. The parents involved in the suit said they were led to believe the drug is perfectly safe to take during pregnancy. They also say a number of conditions their daughter was born with—including hypoplastic right ventricle, right coronary ostial atresia, pulmonary atresia and patent ductus arterioles—were caused by the drug being used during pregnancy.

According to the Children’s Heart Institute, a hypoplastic right ventricle is a small and weak right ventricle or chamber. The right ventricle’s normal growth was blocked in the early heart development, when the tricuspid valve did not open. Right coronary ostial atresia is rare and occurs only in about one to two percent of congenital heart disease cases. Pulmonary atresia occurs when the valve on the right side of the heart is blocked so blood cannot flow properly. Each one of these conditions is serious enough on its own, but having multiple heart defects at the same time is extremely challenging.

When the mother in the case asked her physician about the side effects of Zoloft during pregnancy, the lawsuit claims she was told there were none. Allegedly, Pfizer knew of such side effects but did not disclose them until sometime later.

Several studies have attempted to examine the relationship between SSRIs and birth defects, such as one conducted in 2007 at the Slone Epidemiology Center at the University of Boston, but this one found the association may only be possible. A different study conducted earlier did find some association and said further study was needed. Both were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

There are so many factors at play, both medically and legally speaking, it is very difficult to predict if the case in Texas could be a precedent for later class action lawsuits.

The Dilemma of Choosing Assisted Living or a Nursing Home

The good news is that thanks to medical advances and other factors, people are living longer than ever. The less than stellar news is this extended life span does not necessarily translate into a high quality of life in one’s later years.

With that comes the issue of what decisions should be made to make sure elder parents get the best care possible. It was not so long ago that the nursing home (aka “old folks” home) was virtually the only way to go. The Social Security act of 1935 gave rise to the nursing home industry, as Social Security provided reliable, fixed income to the elderly. Nursing homes didn’t become affordable for many and a profitable business enterprise until more than two decades later, thanks to public financing through Medicare and Medicaid.

But the tide is changing, as more and more people are looking at assisted living care possibilities and taking advantage of them. Newswise reports that a study by Health Services Research says assisted living, where the elderly are aided in everyday tasks in settings designed to replicate the home is increasing, while occupancy in the more traditional nursing homes is going down.
According to the study, nursing home occupancy dropped from 93% in 1977 to 87% in 1995. It continued to fall, to 83% in 2003. The researchers in this study found that assisted living capacity rose 10% and caused a 1.4% decrease in private-pay nursing home occupancy.
Assisted living facilities started gaining popularity in the 1980s, as they offered private rooms, food, housekeeping and other assistance. Most also have plenty of social activities for residents.

However, this does not mean a nursing home would not be a viable choice, since the type of care received in such a facility can be much better than sufficient.
“Although frequently thought of as temporary destinations for the final months of life, many skilled nursing residents thrive in these residences for a number of years,” said Jacob A. Hale, an Elder Law and Estate Planning attorney at The Hale Law Firm, P.C. in Waxahachie, TX.

John Hale is a Dallas elder law attorney and Dallas estate planning lawyer with The Hale Law Firm. To learn more visit

How an Elder Lawyer Can Save Aging Parents’ Finances

Times can be tough for baby boomers moving into retirement and their golden years, as well as their adult children. More and more, the latter are becoming caregivers and relied upon to support their parents financially.

Statistics show that more than 32 percent of adult offspring chipped in $5,000 or more of their own money to help out their parents last year. More than 75 percent, while selflessly helping out their folks, wonder if this will have a negative impact on their own financial situation.

All over the country, individuals have had their savings ripped apart by the lagging economy, tumbling home values and investments gone bad.  Also, do not forget the health care costs incurred by taking care of Mom and Dad. Those are climbing at a rate with which many folks cannot keep up.

“An experienced elder law firm can help preserve assets, connect with government benefits and resources and create a contingency plan to address possible changes,” said John Hale, a Dallas elder law attorney and Dallas estate planning lawyer with The Hale Law Firm.

Obviously, doing the right thing in taking care of the folks is the main priority. But not understanding or being fully aware of the legal implications of certain moves could lead to lost Medicaid eligibility, negative tax consequences or sundry other legal and financial problems. An elder lawyer can help avoid these pitfalls, and consulting one should be the first step in helping parents.

This is a far better alternative to relying on well-meaning — but faulty — advice from financial advisors, accountants and others while putting together a game plan to care for aging parents.

Case in point: An elderly parent has an apartment constructed on his children’s property in order to be closer to them. It turns out the financial outlay to build the apartment could be considered a gift. That could lead to gift taxes and Medicaid eligibility being taken away. An experienced elder law attorney can be critical at the beginning stages of retirement and long-term care planning, and people are starting to understand this.

To learn more, visit

Hale Law Hailed as a Top Elder Law Firm by Newsweek

The Hale Law Firm has long prided itself on its excellent elder law, one of the most difficult aspects of the legal profession. Fewer than 5% of all estate planning attorneys practice in this field.

And The Hale Law Firm has been cited for being among the best of the best in the industry. The Hale Law Firm was named by Newsweek in its June 18 issue as one of the leading elder law attorneys in the country, joining 10 other elder firms in this prestigious honor.

One of the big reasons for The Hale Law Firm’s success in elder law is every one of the Hale team has been a caregiver to an elderly relative, so the firm understands this can be a trying time. At The Hale Law Firm, the motto is “Wise and Compassionate Counsel” is more than just a slogan, it’s what we’re known for.” That the firm has been cited for its work by a publication which has been nationally-known for decades proves the point loud and clear.

“We are very honored to be featured in Newsweek’s publication,” said John D. Hale of The Hale Law Firm, D.C. “Our elder law practice focuses primarily on developing and implementing asset protection plans for families struggling with chronic illness and disability.”
Hale added, “I think what makes us unique is our commitment to helping families on the implementation side of our services.

“Families are beginning to see the importance of developing a plan to address long-term care in their estate plans,” Hale said. “It really doesn’t matter how good your will or trust is if you pass away impoverished.

“Our goal is to protect our clients’ assets by accessing alternative payers for long-term care. In helping our clients avoid the unnecessary spend down of their estates, we are also finding that it is easier to find common ground among families members.”

John Hale is a Dallas elder law attorney and Dallas estate planning lawyer with The Hale Law Firm. To learn more visit