Glaxo Smith Kline has paid out close to $1 billion to resolve lawsuits involving Paxil since the drug came on the market in1992, according to a December 14, 2009 Bloomberg report. But the billion dollars does not cover the more than 600 Paxil birth defect cases currently pending in multi-litigation in Pennsylvania.
Glaxo has settled about 10 birth defect cases, according to Sean Tracey, a Houston attorney who represented the family of a child victim in the first jury trial that decided in favor of the plaintiff on October 13, 2009, Bloomberg reports. The settlements in those lawsuits averaged about $4 million, people familiar with the cases told the new service.
First Trial A Bust for Glaxo.
The first trial, in the case of Kilker v Glaxo, ended with a jury in Philadelphia finding that Glaxo "negligently failed to warn" the doctor treating Lyam Kilker's mother about Paxil's risks and the drug was a "factual cause" of Lyam's heart defects. The jury awarded the family $2.5 million in compensatory damages.
After the trial, juror Joe Mellon told Bloomberg that Glaxo did not conduct adequate studies on Paxil. "There were a couple of what I thought were safety signals and what the plaintiffs presented as safety signals that they should have maybe looked into further," he said.
On October 14, 2009, the American Lawyer reported that the plaintiff's lead attorney, Sean Tracey, had quizzed the jurors about what swayed their decision. "They said the fact that GSK never adequately studied their own drug was a big deal," Tracey said. "The animal testing they did showed that they had a potential problem, and they didn't follow up with adequate studies on animals or humans."
Glaxo's lead attorney in the Kilker trial was King & Spalding partner, Chilton Varner.
Over 600 Trials To Go.
A number of birth defect cases are set for trial in 2010. Andy Vickery, who practices at the Houston firm of Vickery, Waldner and Mallia, is handling several cases, with the Novak trial set to start first. The case is unique in that it involves an infant born with heart birth defects to Derek and Laura Novak on April 4, 2002, after Laura was prescribed Paxil during pregnancy for the off-label treatment of migraine headaches.
"Although one might worry that this would cause a jury to blame the prescribing doctor," says Vickery, "in this case, we can show that GSK encouraged this use, by sending out over 1500 "medical information" letters touting the benefits of Paxil for migraine headaches, and by leaving "approved WLF reprint" articles with the prescribing doctors."
Delaney Novak underwent open heart surgery on April 29, 2002, and again on February 21, 2003. Cardiac catheterization procedures were performed on December 4, 2002 and May 25, 2006. She will likely need repeated heart surgeries as she continues to grow.
In December 2005, the FDA reclassified Paxil from a pregnancy Category C drug to a Category D. Category D means studies in pregnant women have demonstrated a risk to the fetus. An advisory to healthcare professionals specifically stated that the "FDA has determined that exposure to paroxetine in the first trimester of pregnancy may increase the risk for congenital malformations, particularly cardiac malformations," and advised:
"Despite this categorization," says Vickery, "in numerous lawsuits across the country, Glaxo has continued to deny that Paxil causes birth defects."
"Hopefully that issue has now been laid to rest by the jury verdict in Philadelphia," he notes.
Case of the Dead Rats.
During opening statements in the first trial on September 15, 2009, Sean Tracey told the jury they were "going to see documents in this case that have never seen the light of day before."