Antidepressant Lawsuits: Paxil, Celexa and Lexapro

Products liability cases involving modern antidepressants in the class known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (“SSRIs”) have enjoyed a relatively consistent, if intermittent, place in the media spotlight since the turn of the millennium. The SSRI group includes Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Luvox, Celexa, and Lexapro, and there have been a number of events thrusting these drugs into the spotlight, including two of the more prominent cases: that of 12-year-old Christopher Pittman, who killed his grandparents while he was experiencing what was alleged to be a violent reaction to Zoloft and Paxil; and that of 60-year-old Donald Schell, who killed his wife, their daughter, their granddaughter, and then himself after taking only two doses of Paxil. The former resulted in a murder conviction and thirty-year jail sentence in South Carolina, while the latter resulted in a civil verdict of approximately $8 million in Wyoming federal court against the maker of Paxil, SmithKline Beecham.

The deadly effects of SSRIs on children and adolescents has been well-documented: the potential to initiate or exacerbate depression or even cause suicidal thinking or behavior. Several manufacturers began sending out “Dear Dr.” letters warning physicians of these risks in and throughout 2004. By January 2005, manufacturers of SSRIs – and a few other modern antidepressants not technically considered SSRIs (e.g., Effexor, Wellbutrin, Cymbalta) – began warning of the risks in a black box warning contained on the labeling for each of the drugs. In 2006, the black box warning was extended to those beyond their adolescent years, all the way up to age 25.

Lawsuits over suicidal injuries allegedly caused by these drugs continue on at least two notable fronts. First, in In re Paxil, a Mass Tort Program in State court in here Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, there remain several dozen cases involving consumers who either attempted or committed suicide allegedly as a result of Paxil. While general discovery has come to an end, case-specific discovery continues. The first case to be tried in the program’s trial pool, Collins v. GlaxoSmithKline, Feb. Term 2007, 00762, is currently awaiting a trial date.

On another front, the Multi-District Litigation entitled In re Celexa and Lexapro Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 06-md-01736-RWS, there are currently forty-three cases involving suicidal injuries allegedly caused by Celexa or Lexapro pending in the Eastern District Court of Missouri, Eastern Division before the Honorable Rodney Sippel. These cases all remain in the early stages of discovery.

Certainly, the legal community will have its eyes and ears on the outcome of both the Paxil cases and the Celexa/Lexapro cases pending the Supreme Court’s upcoming review of Wyeth v. Levine. It will be interesting to gauge the companies’ willingness – or lack therof – to press forward as we await that decision.