A federal jury in Chicago has ordered pharmaceutical maker GlaxoSmithKline to pay $3 million to the widow of a Chicago lawyer who committed suicide by jumping in front of a train after taking a generic version of Paxil, an antidepressant developed by GSK, finding the drugmaker should be held responsible for his death, even though it didn’t make the actual medication the lawyer had been taking for about a week before he took his life.
The verdict was announced Thursday, April 20, concluding three days of deliberations that capped off a nearly five-week long trial that began in mid-March that pitted plaintiff Wendy Dolin, wife of the deceased lawyer Stewart Dolin, against the United Kingdom-based GSK. The drugmaker’s U.S. operations are based in Philadelphia.
Dolin’s legal team had asked the jury to award Dolin $39 million.
“We are very happy with the verdict,” said Brent Wisner, an attorney with the firm of Baum Hedlund in Los Angeles. “This was a complicated case, and while we had asked for more, this is still a considerable sum of money.”
GSK vowed appeal, saying it was “disappointed in the outcome.”
“GSK maintains that because it did not manufacture or market the medicine ingested by Mr. Dolin, it should not be liable,” a GSK spokesperson said in a prepared statement released following the verdict. “Additionally, the Paxil label provided complete and adequate warnings during the time period relevant to this lawsuit.”
Wisner said he said Dolin’s legal team was prepared to contest those notions on appeal, calling them “complete nonsense,” and saying Illinois law allows a finding of liability against the drugmaker in a case like this.
“It’s not the pills that killed Mr. Dolin,” said Wisner. “It was the failure to warn.”
The trial was closely watched by many, as it tested the legal limits of liability that can be imposed on the makers of a name brand drug for the alleged effects of a generic equivalent made by another company.
The case landed in Chicago federal court in 2012, when Wendy Dolin first filed her complaint, alleging GSK should be held liable in the suicide death of her husband.
According to court documents, Stewart Dolin, an attorney and co-chair of the corporate and securities practice at Reed Smith LLP in Chicago, was prescribed paroxetine, a generic antidepressant equivalent to the name-brand Paxil drug, which had been developed and marketed for years prior by GSK.
After taking the drug for several days in July 2010, Stewart Dolin took his own life by stepping in front of a Chicago Transit Authority Blue Line train in The Loop. Court documents indicated Dolin and his family were not facing financial pressure and his family life appeared normal. According to Wendy Dolin’s lawyers, Stewart Dolin was earning around $1 million a year at the time of his death.
During the trial, however, GSK introduced evidence indicating Dolin had a “long history” of “work-related anxiety,” which they asserted was ratcheted up after the firm at which he had been working was acquired in a merger by Reed Smith in 2007, placing new pressures on him to succeed. GSK’s lawyers argued this, combined with fear of losing important clients, may have contributed to his decision to take his own life.
Dolin’s attorneys, however, placed the blame for the suicide squarely on GSK, saying the label the company placed on Paxil, and which were included with the generic equivalent paroxetine made by drugmaker Mylan, did not adequately warn prescribing doctors and drug users of the potential increased risk of suicidal thoughts and actions the plaintiffs said were attributed to the drug.
In response, GSK argued the requirements of the label were set by federal regulators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and those regulators had determined GSK’s label was sufficient. And that, GSK’s attorneys argued, was “the fundamental problem” with the lawsuit.
“The plaintiff just disagrees with the conclusions the FDA has reached about whether there is a risk or not,” attorney Andrew Bayman said in GSK’s closing arguments.
GSK’s attorneys asserted Dolin’s prescribing physician had known the risks associated with paroxetine, and had prescribed the drug to Dolin.
Plaintiffs, however, argued GSK had “played games” with data to get the result it desired, asserting the company had known “for a long, long time” of an increased risk of suicide from Paxil, and did not note that risk on its label, misleading physicians and patients in the process.
Following the verdict, Wisner said the verdict was a “clear statement … the label for Paxil is inadequate.”
GSK is represented in the action by attorneys with the firms of King & Spalding, of Atlanta, Ga.; Dentons US LLP, of Chicago; and Phillips Lytle LLP, of Buffalo, N.Y.
Dolin is represented by the Rapoport Law Offices, of Chicago, and the firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman P.C., of Los Angeles.