As juror screening began Wednesday for trial of a man’s claim that an anti-smoking medication was a factor in a psychotic breakdown that led him to gouge his eyes out while jailed in 2014, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys said outside the courtroom that the part of his client’s case against Pfizer Inc. has been resolved.
“We reached a confidential resolution and I can’t talk about it,” said Michael Libman on behalf of 33-year-old plaintiff Michael Shabsis.
The remaining defendants in the case are Los Angeles County and Dr. Philip Cogen, who worked at Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA and allegedly prescribed Chantix to Shabsis.
Judge Daniel Murphy questioned jurors who said they could not serve on the jury and dismissed those who convinced him they would suffer a financial hardship, but ordered others back to court Friday for the formal commencement of jury selection. Two of those ordered back were doctors, who were told by the judge that it was the responsibility of their employers to find replacements for them if they are picked for the jury.
All returning jurors also were told to fill out a questionaire.
Lawyers have predicted the case will end no later than March 11.
The jury will be tasked with deciding whether sheriff’s deputies knew or should have known that Shabis was in need of medical care after suffering a hip injury before gouging out his eyes and whether Cogen should have prescribed the plaintiff Chantix.
Shabsis filed his lawsuit in December 2014, alleging that his breakdown occurred “in part or in whole” because he was taking the anti-smoking drug.
Murphy previously dismissed former Sheriff Lee Baca as a defendant, saying his presence in the case was “redundant” because Shabsis also is suing Los Angeles County. The judge also dismissed Shabsis’ claims against the University of California Board of Regents.
Shabsis’ lawyers maintain deputies in the Twin Towers jail were negligent in not getting their client immediate medical care after he suffered a hip injury, saying his pleas for help were ignored. Shabsis’ attorneys further contend that if Shabsis has been assisted with his hip injury right away, he could have been prevented from mutilating himself later. They also allege his civil rights were violated.
Lawyers for the county maintain there is no evidence of negligence on the part of deputies.
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.