Thursday, July 30, 2009

Does Neurontin Make You Scratch Your Head?

Plaintiffs say that Pfizer's anti-epileptic drug, Neurontin, causes people to commit suicide.

We say that it makes you scratch your head.

The first Neurontin-suicide case went to trial earlier this week. It sounded like a tough case for plaintiff: The decedent, who had taken Neurontin and then committed suicide, had a history of mental health disorders and abusing drugs, including cocaine. (Here's a link to a Bloomberg story before the trial started.)

Yesterday, plaintiff -- the decedent's daughter -- voluntarily dismissed the case, supposedly because an anonymous plaintiff's lawyer had agreed to pay her $50,000. (Here's the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reporting on that development.)


We're scratching our heads about two questions:

First, if an anonymous donor decided to give you $50,000, wouldn't you take the $50,000 and still pursue the case against Pfizer? I mean, $50,000 is nice, but $50,000 plus a plaintiff's verdict would be even nicer, wouldn't it? Why drop the lawsuit?

Second, who would decide, out of the blue, to give $50,000 to the decedent's daughter? Is it really just some random lawyer whose heartstrings were touched by this particular plaintiff's case? Or perhaps it was a plaintiff's lawyer with another upcoming Neurontin trial who feared that a defense verdict in the first case out of the blocks would hurt the settlement value of his case? Or maybe something else is going on here?

We don't have a clue, but we figured we'd share our puzzlement with you.


Max Kennerly said...

Totally, totally baffling.

I would add one thing, though: it was a very weak case revolving around a woman with a very tragic and very long history of mental illness and drug abuse unrelated to the Neurotonin. So there's good odds the family got cold feet anyway, even without the donor, and just didn't want to go through with it.

Trials are a painful endeavor. Many plaintiffs have pulled out or taken nuisance settlements just to avoid the emotional rollercoaster, to avoid reliving one of the worst experiences of their lives.

Anonymous said...

I completely understand. This was a bad case that could have set precedent for future cases.

The plaintiff's lawyer probably offered $50K in exchange for the decedent's daughter to voluntarily dismiss--so that plaintiffs' lawyers wouldn't have their future income stream jeopardized.

Is this really so complicated?

Anonymous said...

Voluntary dismissal is not the same thing as a dismissal with prejudice. After voluntary dismissal, plaintiff generally has one year to re-file.

Perhaps the lawyer paid $50,000 for the reason you mentioned, and plaintiff intends to re-file with new lawyer as counsel within one year?

Anonymous said...

This would have been one of the bellweather cases in determining how much the company should settle the other cases with, so I'm not surprised that some anonymous plaintiff's lawyer gave them money to go away for a while. Can't imagine that anyone would chose a different lawyer though - Lanier is fabulous.

Anonymous said...

Lanier is a great trial lawyer, but I don't see him playing in Boston if that is the venue.