Dismissal of Cymbalta suicide lawsuit against Eli Lilly reversed

A federal appeals court in Missouri has reversed a lower courts ruling to dismiss a Cymbalta lawsuit filed against the manufacturers of the antidepressant drug. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a South Dakota teenager who committed suicide after taking Cymbalta.

Cynthia Schilf accompanied her sixteen-year-old son Peter to an appointment to discuss his depression with their family practitioner, Dr. Briggs. Dr. Briggs diagnosed Peter with depression and gave him samples of the Eli Lilly antidepressant medication Cymbalta. These samples had been removed from the packaging and thus had no warning information.

Dr. Briggs spoke with Cynthia and Peter Schilf about the risks of antidepressant treatment. Dr. Briggs recalls telling them that while there “may be an increased association with antidepressants and suicidal ideations and gestures,” “[n]o completed suicides occurred during the clinical trials” and “Cymbalta was not specifically studied.” Dr. Briggs was referencing an FDA study and chose to prescribe Cymbalta in part because he believed it was less linked to suicide than another antidepressant evaluated in that study, Prozac.

However, in fact, there were five completed suicides in Lilly-sponsored clinical trials of Cymbalta, which was studied separately from the drugs Dr. Briggs referenced. Just over a month before Peter’s appointment, the FDA issued a Public Health Advisory telling the public that it directed manufacturers of antidepressants to include in their packaging a “black box” warning: “Antidepressants increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children and adolescents with major depressive disorder (MDD) and other psychiatric disorders.” A black box warning describes special problems, particularly those that may lead to death or serious injury, in a prominently-displayed box so that it is readily apparent.

On the same day, the FDA issued a press release entitled, “FDA Launches a Multi–Pronged Strategy to Strengthen Safeguards for Children Treated with Antidepressant Medications.” In a separate letter to manufacturers, the FDA said, “A causal role for antidepressants in inducing suicidality has been established in pediatric patients.”

On December 24, 2004, Peter committed suicide. One month later, Lilly revised the Cymbalta literature to include the FDA-approved black box warning of suicide.

Peter’s parents sued Lilly for failing to properly warn Dr. Briggs. They claimed that Dr. Briggs would not have prescribed or they would not have allowed Peter to take Cymbalta if Lilly had provided an adequate warning.

Lilly filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that “a warning from [Lilly] would not have informed Dr. Briggs of anything he did not already know” about the risks of Cymbalta. The trial court granted the motion.

Recently, however, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court of appeals noted that Dr. Briggs did not recall any suicides occurring in the clinical trials of Cymbalta and he believed that no causal connection had been established between Cymbalta and suicidality. Further, Dr. Briggs’ deposition is unclear as to whether he would have still prescribed Cymbalta if given information about the clinical trial suicides or any causal role for Cymbalta in inducing suicidality.

The court of appeals determined that Dr. Briggs’ testimony and behavior indicated that knowledge of the five suicides during the Cymbalta trials or of any causal role for Cymbalta in inducing suicidality may have changed his prescribing behavior. Thus, the court concluded, there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether an adequate warning would have changed Dr. Briggs’ decision to prescribe Cymbalta to Peter. The court therefore reversed and remanded the case for trial.

The opinion in Schilf v. Eli Lilly & Co., — F.3d —- (8th Cir. August 03, 2012) is available online at the court’s website: http://www.ca8.uscourts.gov/opns/opFrame.html

Heygood, Orr & Pearson has a long and successfully history of prosecuting lawsuits against big drug companies for dangerous drugs. If a loved one died while properly using a prescribed prescription drug, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact our firm for a free consultation. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out our free online contact form.

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