On April 20, 2017 following a nearly six-week trial, a jury of citizens from the Northern District of Illinois returned a $3 million verdict in favor of the widow and two adult children of a 57-year-old man who died as a result of a prescription drug induced suicide. The drug at issue was paroxetine, the generic version of Paxil, which is manufactured by the drug company GlaxoSmithKline.
According to the numerous sources, this is the first verdict ever returned in favor of a plaintiff against a name-brand pharmaceutical company where the drug ingested was from a generic manufacturer.
The case involved a 57-year-old attorney who suffered from on and off work related stress, anxiety and depression. To help cope with this, his family physician prescribed generic Paxil (paroxetine). Within 2 days of starting the medication, he started to develop unusual behaviors noted by his family, coworkers, and talk therapists. At the time, however, no one attributed these changes to the new medication, and several people saw no changes at all.
Following a business lunch 6 days later, the man left his office and the last person to see him alive was a nurse at a subway station who described the man as anxiously pacing back and forth “like a polar bear.” As a subway train approached, according to the witness, the man dove in front of the train, suffering fatal injuries.
The doctor who prescribed the drug testified that he was unaware of any increased risk of suicidal behavior associated with paroxetine for adults.
The evidence showed the defendant developed paroxetine in the mid-late 1980s and that the FDA granted the defendant marketing authority to sell this drug in the United States in 1992. According to the plaintiff, the defendant was aware of an increased risk of suicidal behavior associated with the use of paroxetine for people of all ages from the initial clinical trials that were completed in the late 1980s. Plaintiff also presented evidence that, over time, the defendant knew more and more about the risk, and defendant’s internal documents from 2006, which were not mentioned in the drug’s label, revealed a 6.7 times increased risk of suicidal behavior for adults of all ages who suffered from Major Depression Disorder. Nevertheless, according to the plaintiff, the label for paroxetine did not and still does not warn of the association between paroxetine and suicidal behavior in adults, leaving prescribing doctors with a false sense of security.
Because the drug manufacturer developed brand-name Paxil and its warning label, the jury was instructed that GSK was legally responsible for the content of all paroxetine warnings, whether name-brand or generic. The jury was instructed it could consider the FDA’s approval of the label, along with all of the other evidence in the case, in deciding whether the defendant negligently provided an inadequate label.
The plaintiff presented evidence that the man’s suicide was not a result of a conscious choice, but rather was a drug induced reaction creating an irresistible impulse. Plaintiff’s experts explained the drug suddenly flipped a switch in the man’s brain, resulting in a drug induced death we would not call a suicide.
This case was the subject of national news coverage and was widely reported on. It was the subject of an “NBC 5 Investigates” story which covered the lawsuit from its filing through jury verdict. Click here to view NBC 5’s report on the story.
It was also featured on the front page of the April 21, 2017 Issue of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. Click here to read the full version of the Law Bulletin article.
Click here to view reporting by the Chicago Tribune.