Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

A judge ruled Thursday that Pfizer Inc. will remain a defendant for now in a lawsuit brought by a man who claims its anti-smoking medication was a factor in his psychotic breakdown that led him to gouge his eyes out while in jail.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marc Marmaro added, however, that if Pfizer’s attorneys want to bring another dismissal motion focusing on whether plaintiff Michael Shabsis’ claims are precluded by federal law, he will hold a hearing.

Pfizer’s lawyers maintain in their court papers that federal law supersedes Shabsis’ state law claims. They also stated in their court papers that the product label warning for Chantix was adequate and that manufacturers of such prescription drugs have an obligation to provide warnings to doctors, but not to patients like Shabsis.

Shabsis filed his lawsuit in December 2014, alleging negligence, excessive force, battery and products liability. He claims his breakdown occurred “in part or in whole” because he was taking Chantix.

Named as defendants along with Pfizer are the University of California Board of Regents, Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA, Dr. Philip Cogen, Los Angeles County and former Sheriff Lee Baca. Cogen worked at Resnick Hospital and prescribed Chantix to Shabsis, the suit says.

According to Pfizer’s lawyers’ court papers, since 2009 the FDA-approved Chantix has included a box label warning of possible “serious neuropsychiatric events” that include “worsening pre-existing psychiatric illness and attempted suicide.”

The label further warns that the risks of Chantix “should be weighed against the benefits of its use.” The label also provided a warning notice to Cogen before he prescribed the medicine to Shabis, the suit states.

Shabsis says he began using Chantix in September 2013 to break a smoking habit, with a prescription provided by Cogen. Four months later, he says he suffered a psychotic breakdown that led to him committing violent behavior toward his grandfather.

Shabsis was arrested and taken to the Twin Towers jail, where he was put in isolation despite being “in the midst of a severe manic episode,” according to his court papers. He says he became “delirious and delusional” while by himself in a cell.

The pain became so intense and the glare of the lights so disturbing that on Jan. 2, 2014, Shabsis used “his own hands and fingers to gouge out both his eyes as he believed he was in hell,” according to his lawsuit.

—City News Service

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