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U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia of Kansas City, Kan., has granted summary judgment to Pfizer Inc., dismissing a products liability action over the prescription drug Zoloft, after first ruling that the plaintiffs’ primary expert was not qualified to testify. The plaintiffs, Ronda Smith, her children and the estate of her husband, Daryl Dempsay, had sued Pfizer’s Roerig Division after Dempsay stabbed Smith and both children and fatally shot himself at their home in March 1996. Smith and the children, Russell and Heather Dempsay, were not seriously injured. The plaintiffs claimed that Dempsay’s violent rampage was caused by his use of the antidepressant Zoloft and charged Pfizer with a failure to test and warn of the effects of Zoloft, as well as with marketing defects and misrepresentation. Pfizer contended that Zoloft did not cause Dempsay’s behavior, said defense attorney Malcolm Wheeler of Denver’s Wheeler Trigg & Kennedy. “He was a lifelong drug addict with 14 arrests.” When Dempsay attacked his family, he said, “He was not in a frenzy. He inflicted only one superficial wound in each.” In addition, in the days before the incident, Dempsay had taken massive amounts of another prescription drug, Xanax. “He was drugged up big time.” Given Dempsay’s previous behavior, Wheeler said, “even their own expert said Smith experienced a ‘certain amount of relief’ ” when Dempsay died. That expert, psychiatrist John T. Maltsberger, was scheduled to testify that, among other things, Zoloft caused suicidal tendencies in a small subgroup and that the drug was a proximate cause of Dempsay’s final violent outburst, Wheeler said. Maltsberger is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, but Pfizer challenged the expert, filing a motion to exclude his testimony. Pfizer contended, among other things, that Maltsberger was not qualified because he was not a psychopharmacologist and therefore had no expertise in the mechanisms by which drugs affect the human body, that he had conducted no clinical studies himself and that he was not an epidemiologist. Judge Murguia agreed with Pfizer, ruling that Maltsberger was “not qualified to testify as an expert regarding the ability of clinical trials, scientific studies, or case histories” to establish a link between Zoloft and violent behavior. Because Maltsberger was the plaintiffs’ only expert on causation and warning, Murguia granted Pfizer’s motion for summary judgment. Smith v. Pfizer Inc., No. 98-4156-CM (D. Kan.). The plaintiffs will appeal the decision, said their attorney, Andy Vickery of Houston’s Vickery & Waldner. Maltsberger testified in a recent $6.4 million wrongful death verdict against the maker of the antidepressant Paxil. Tobin v. Glaxo Smith-Kline, No. CV00-25, (D. Wyo.) [NLJ, July 16].

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