A judge ruled that Pfizer Inc. will remain a defendant in a lawsuit brought by a man who claims its Chantix anti-smoking medication was a factor in a psychotic breakdown that led him to gouge his eyes out while jailed in Los Angeles in 2014.
On Monday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel Murphy adopted a tentative ruling he earlier issued in plaintiff Michael Shabsis’ case. He heard arguments before taking the case under submission.
Pfizer’s lawyers maintain in their court papers that federal law supersedes Shabsis’ state law claims. They also argue 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.
Additionally, the company said in a statement that “the science and the facts simply do not support the claims.”
“Congress evinced no intention of preempting state tort liability law for injuries from prescription drugs,” Murphy wrote.
Lisa Maki, one of Shabsis’ lawyers, said she was pleased with the ruling.
“The judge ruled there was no preemption for pharmaceuticals and that clients can have their day in court,” Maki said.
Shabsis filed his lawsuit in December 2014, alleging that 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.
Murphy also denied a defense motion to remove Cogen from the case.
“There remains a triable issue of fact whether Cogen’s conduct fell below the applicable standard of care and whether Cogen’s actions are the cause of the alleged harm that occurred,” Murphy wrote.
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 to be violent 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 in early January 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.
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.”
A hearing is scheduled Sept. 19 on a motion to dismiss the part of the case against Los Angeles County and Baca.
Attorneys for those defendants maintain their clients are immune from suits involving injuries to prisoners. They lawyers also state in their court papers that Shabsis “did not demonstrate self-injurious behavior” prior to his self-inflicted injuries.
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