Chantix Suicide Case Settles As Trial Ready to Begin

Following several attempts to postpone the start of the first Chantix trial, which was set to begin on Monday, Pfizer has reportedly reached an agreement to settle a product liability lawsuit brought by the family of a man who committed suicide while taking the stop-smoking drug.

According to court documents, the Chantix settlement was reached in a case brought by the family of Mark Whitely, who killed himself in 2007 while taking the prescription medication to help him quit smoking. Terms of the agreement remain confidential.

The complaint alleged that Pfizer failed to adequately warn about the risk of suicide from Chantix side effects, which reports have suggested increases the risk of suicidal thoughts, unusual behavior and other psychological problems.

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Pfizer faces an estimated 2,500 Chantix cases, with all federal lawsuits consolidated as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL), which has been centralized before U.S. District Judge Inge Johnson in the Northern District of Alabama.

Chantix Settlement Reached After Attempts To Delay Case Failed

The Whitely case was scheduled to be the first Chantix suicide case to be presented to a jury, with trial scheduled to begin on October 22. The agreement allows Pfizer to avoid the quickly approaching trial date, after Judge Johnson refused to delay the scheduled start.

Earlier this month, Judge Johnson refused to allow Pfizer’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and two other executives to avoid appearing live for trial testimony, which Pfizer was actively appealing at the time the agreement was reached to settle the Whitely case.

Pfizer also failed in an attempt to postpone the start of the Chantix trial date, after Judge Johnson denied a motion filed October 16.

While Pfizer argued that the start of the trial should be delayed to allow the drug maker and plaintiffs to further evaluate the results of a recently completed clinical trial, which focused on the side effects of Chantix among individuals with depression.

In an order issued the day before the settlement was reached, Judge Johnson refused to delay the start of the trial, indicating the study involved smokers with depression, and Whitely had never been diagnosed with depression before using Chantix. In addition, Judge Johnson pointed out in the order that Pfizer had complete control over the timing of the release of the study findings and additional studies will be on-going for the next five years, which do not justify delaying trial dates.

Pfizer faced the possibility of a substantial verdict if the Whitely family was successful establishing at trial that the suicide was caused by the failure to warn about the risks associated with Chantix. In addition to compensatory damages, Judge Johnson ruled in September that the jury would be allowed to consider awarding punitive damages in the Chantix case, which would be designed to punish the drug maker for knowingly or intentionally witholding information about the risks.

Next Chantix Case Set For Trial January 2013

As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings, a group of cases have been prepared for early trial dates, known as bellwether cases because they are used to help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the Chantix litigation.

There area already four more trial dates scheduled in the federal Chantix MDL, with the next case set to begin in January 2013. That lawsuit is not a suicide case, but involves a claim brought by an Alabama man who allegedly suffered suicidal thoughts, depression, erratic behavior, mood swings and anxiety, which were allegedly caused by the psychological side effects of Chantix use in July 2007.

According to a report by Bloomberg News, Pfizer has not agreed to settle any other Chantix cases, as the attorneys representing the Whitely family also represent nearly 40 other families, and no settlement offers have been received on those cases, according to a quote obtained by Bloomberg.

Parties involved in the Chantix litigation are closely watching the scheduled bellwether trials, as the outcomes and lead-up to the trial dates often are influential in determining potential settlement values in other cases.

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1 Comments

  • TerriOctober 19, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    ...It's over, Ian. Now, MAN-UP and do the right thing...YANK this drug off the market!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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