(Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)
A Chicago federal jury awarded $3 million on Thursday to the widow of a former leader of Reed Smith’s corporate department, finding pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline plc liable for the 2010 suicide of Stewart Dolin.
The verdict was well below the $39 million that Dolin’s widow requested. But it was her victory nonetheless, and the culmination of a nearly six-week trial between two sides who seemed to agree on nothing—most importantly, whether the popular antidepressant paroxetine that Dolin took for six days before he threw himself in front of a Chicago passenger train causes suicide in adults.
The jury in effect found it does.
“What happened to Stu Dolin could have happened to anyone,” said David Rapoport, one of the Dolin family’s lawyers, in closing arguments Monday.
The trial also shed light on the personal stress and anxiety that can be a side effect of Big Law mergers. GSK argued Dolin committed suicide as a result of fears of inadequacy and a potentially diminished role at Reed Smith, which he joined in 2007 when the global legal giant acquired midsize Chicago shop Sachnoff & Weaver, where Dolin served on the management committee.
In therapy sessions that became evidence for the defense, Dolin (pictured right) said he was afraid of being a “bag lady” who couldn’t support his family after his compensation fell by 10 percent in 2009, according to testimony during the case. Reed Smith’s Chicago managing partner Michael LoVallo testified those fears were overblown, saying that all partners’ compensation fell that year amid the onset of the recession.
Dolin’s widow, Wendy, and her two adult children alleged the generic version of GSK’s Paxil taken by Dolin caused a heightened anxiety known as “akathisia” in the 57-year-old that caused his death. GSK vigorously denied that testimony, pointing out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to this day does not require the drug Paxil, the name-brand version of paroxetine, to come with a warning that it can increase the risk of suicide in adults.
“This verdict shows quite clearly [that] GSK has been hiding the data on this for years,” said R. Brent Wisner, a partner at Los Angeles-based Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman representing Dolin’s family. “We’re hoping this sends a clear signal to the current owner of Paxil that they need to change the label.”
Dolin’s lawyers at Baum Hedlund and Chicago’s Rapoport Law Offices asked for $39 million to compensate their client’s family in closing arguments Monday. To break that down, David Rapoport told jurors that Dolin’s family was owed $3 million for “pain and suffering” endured during the six days Dolin took a generic version of Paxil before his suicide.
Rapoport also asked for $14.8 million in lost wages, saying that Dolin would have made $1.2 million a year as a Reed Smith partner until he was 70. (As a matter of comparison, in 2012, the family of a late Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner secured a $15.4 million wrongful death settlement from the state of Hawaii.) But the largest portion of the award request, $21.2 million, was for the lost companionship of Dolin as a husband and father.
The widow’s legal team relied on testimony from a British psychiatrist who has been alleging for nearly two decades that the antidepressant class of drugs including Paxil can cause suicide.
David Healy, who has testified in more than 10 cases against GSK alone, told the jury that the London-based company inflated the number of suicides that occurred in the placebo group during the drug’s clinical trials. That allowed GSK to escape a suicide warning on the drug’s label, Healy contends.
A spokeswoman for GSK, which was represented by King & Spalding and Dentons at trial, said the company is disappointed in the outcome and will be filing an appeal.
“GSK maintains that because it did not manufacture or market the medicine ingested by Mr. Dolin, it should not be liable,” the spokeswoman said in a statement. “Additionally, the Paxil label provided complete and adequate warnings during the time period relevant to this lawsuit.”
GSK had argued that the FDA did not require the company to add a warning label to the drug after a 2006 reanalysis of clinical trials. They also argued that Dolin’s doctor, a family friend, was aware that Paxil had been linked to suicides in people under 24, and had read material that said patients need to be closely monitored while on the drug.
During the jury’s nearly three-day deliberation, they requested several documents related to the labeling that applied to the drug when Dolin took it in 2010, as well as GSK’s communication with the FDA over what that its label should state.
One issue GSK had unsuccessfully argued earlier in the case was that it should not be held liable for Dolin’s death because he took a generic version of Paxil, also known as paroxetine. In a decision that split with some previous rulings on the matter, U.S. District Judge James Zagel ruled in 2014 that GSK could be held liable, as the generic manufacturer, Mylan Inc., was bound by statute to use the company’s warning label.
As a group, 28 percent of lawyers struggle with some level of depression, said a study last year co-founded by the American Bar Association. That’s compared with less than 8 percent for the general population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, the CDC said in a 2012 analysis that the legal industry had the 11th-highest incidence of suicide among occupations, with 18.8 people out of 100,000 taking their lives, compared to 16.1 nationally.
Dolin’s widow, however, said her husband’s suicide was not because of the workplace stress he expressed, and insisted that he had no history of mental illness.
“I know the American Bar Association wanted to put Stewart into the category of Big Law suicides,” Wendy Dolin said. “My question to Big Law is, how many of those lawyers who killed themselves have been on antidepressants these past 20 years? There are a lot of consumer issues here.”
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