Chicago U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Evidence of Suicide-Related Warnings on Antidepressant Package

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago affirmed a Southern District of Illinois judge’s ruling by the district judge in the regarding Wyeth, Inc.’s antidepressant Effexor . Giles v. Wyeth, Inc., No. 07-3149.

In Giles, the plaintiff decedent, Jeff Giles, was a coal miner and who became depressed after the coalmine where he worked closed and he lost his job. He was diagnosed with major depressant disorder, for which his physician prescribed the antidepressant Effexor. He committed suicide 2 days after taking three Effexor pills. His wife and son brought an Illinois wrongful death lawsuit against Wyeth.

Effexor carries various warnings, one of which is a suicide precaution. In June 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it was reviewing reports of a possible relationship between Paxil, an antidepressant not manufactured by Wyeth, and an increase risk of suicide and suicide attempts in children and adolescents. In 2003, Wyeth changed Effexor’s labeling to reflect that its pediatric clinical trial showed an increased risk of suicidal ideation in children using the drug.

In 2006, the FDA conducted a study of all antidepressant manufacturers’ clinical trials involving adults. It found that adults between the ages of 25 and 64 showed no increase in suicidal behavior taking antidepressants. The next year, the FDA issued a new warning expanding its previous suicide warning to include adults younger than 25.

Before the beginning of the Giles trial, Wyeth filed a motion in limine to exclude (1) all suicide-related warnings that accompanied Effexor after the decedent’s death in 2002; and (2) scientific data related to suicide in pediatric patients taking antidepressants.

The district court granted the motion in part, ruling that evidence of post-2002 suicide related warnings was not admissible. It also denied in part the motion and allowed the use of scientific evidence related to pediatric patients, including such evidence from after the decedent’s death.

After a 3 week trial, the jury returned the verdict in favor of Wyeth. Plaintiff appealed that judgment, claiming that Wyeth was strictly liable for failing to provide adequate warnings for Effexor. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Wyeth and the district court stating that excluding otherwise relevant evidence when its “probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues or misleading the jury, or by considerations, of under delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence”. Federal Rules of Evidence, 403.

The warnings that accompanied Effexor after Mr. Giles’ death had little or any probative value in the case. The excluded warnings did not establish that Wyeth knew or should have known about an increased risk of suicides in adults of Mr. Giles’ age. The excluded post-2002 warnings focus on children and adults younger than 25.

While the court might have ruled in favor of Wyeth in the Giles case, they weren’t so lucky in the recent case of Wyeth v. Levine, in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff and opened the door for several lawsuits against the pharmaceutical giant.

Kreisman Law Offices has been practicing Chicago wrongful death claims for over 30 years, serving areas of Chicago such as Wheeling, River Forest, Elmwood Park, and Chicago Ridge.