C H E Y E N N E, Wyo., June 6, 2001 -- The manufacturer of the nation's second-best-selling anti-depressant must pay $8 million to the relatives of a man who killed himself and three others after taking the drug Paxil, jurors said.
Jurors in U.S. District Court considering the wrongful death civil suit returned a verdict against SmithKline Beecham today. They received the case Tuesday afternoon.
Relatives of Donald Schell, 60, claim the man, originally from Gillette, Wyo., took two Paxil tablets before shooting his wife, their daughter, his granddaughter and himself to death on Feb. 13, 1998.
The survivors' lead attorney, Andy Vickery, had asked the jury to award a total of $25 million in damages.
Besides Schell, the victims were his wife, Rita Schell, 55; their daughter, Deborah Tobin, 31; and Alyssa Tobin, 9 months. Tobin's widower, Tim Tobin, and Donald Schell's sister, Neva Hardy, filed the wrongful-death lawsuit.
Vickery also asked the jury to award damages to Michael Schell, the Schells' adult son, and to Rita Schell's mother.
The jury awarded damages in varied amounts for each death, with the largest awards — $2.5 million each — for the deaths of Deborah and Alyssa Tobin going to Tim Tobin.
Jury Said Drug Maker 80 Percent to Blame
In its findings, the jury concluded that Paxil could cause someone to commit suicide or homicide and that the drug was in fact a proximate cause of the deaths in this case.
The jury attributed 80 percent of the fault in the case to the drug maker and 20 percent to Donald Schell.
A call seeking comment from representatives of the drug company was not immediately returned today.
In closing arguments, Vickery said Paxil can produce suicidal and homicidal reactions in a small number of people.
"Since 1990, SmithKline Beecham knew there was a small group at risk and Don Schell was one of those vulnerable people," he said.
The company, now GlaxoSmithKline PLC, failed to provide adequate label warnings about the possibility of violent reactions, nor did it adequately test for the risk of such reactions, he said.
Company: Drug Didn't Have a Chance to Work
Attorneys for the company maintained that Paxil is a safe treatment for depression.
"It's plain from the facts, science and common sense," Charles Preuss said in closing arguments. "Don Schell's escalating depression caused this.
"The real tragedy is Paxil didn't have a chance to do its job and save lives," he said. "Paxil could have saved four lives in Gillette."
Vickery said Schell told people he hallucinated when he took Prozac a decade earlier.
Preuss said Schell went through five previous bouts of depression that kept him out of work, but Schell did not follow the recommendations of at least three psychiatrists.
Also, he said, Schell had been coping with the death of his father-in-law and brother and had problems at work regarding a threatened lawsuit.
Doctors from across the United States and from England were called to testify during the 2 ½-week trial.
Central nervous system drugs like Paxil are GlaxoSmithKline's biggest product group. GlaxoSmithKline's world headquarters are in London and its U.S. research operations are based in Philadelphia.