As a pharmaceutical liability lawyer, I am very familiar with the warnings on certain prescription psychiatric drugs that they might cause depression and suicidal thoughts. This is particularly true for young adults, teens and children, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has responded by requiring its strongest warning on the labels of those drugs that young people taking them are at increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior. Unfortunately, a suicide blamed in part on the psychiatric drug Abilify (aripiprazole) was the basis for Rollins v. Wackenhut Services, a lawsuit by the mother of Devin Bailey. Bailey killed himself with a gun issued by his employer, security company Wackenhut Services Inc. He had a history of mental illness and was federally banned from having a firearm, but the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld dismissal of the case, finding Rollins failed to state a claim.
Bailey withdrew from college after two years because of depression, and was discharged from the Navy because he was hospitalized for psychosis almost as soon as he joined. In 2007, after a run-in with police and an unsuccessful attempt by his mother to get him treatment, Bailey was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features. In May of 2008, after some successful job training attempts, Bailey committed himself to a psychiatric hospital, where he was discharged after a week and prescribed Abilify and Prolixin. The Abilify prescription was later increased to its maximum dose. In October of 2008, he got a job as a security guard for Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Wackenhut’s background check turned up a warrant from the 2007 police encounter, but Wackenhut failed to follow up on his or check into Bailey’s military record. Instead, it issued him a weapon, which he used to kill himself on duty in December of 2008. He was 23.
Rollins sued Wackenhut in D.C. for negligence and the pharmaceutical companies Otsuka and Bristol-Meyers Squibb for selling an unreasonably dangerous drug. The district court dismissed the case, invoking a D.C. tort law that forbids negligence liability for suicides and saying the drug claims were not sufficiently pleaded. After it did not grant leave to amend the drug complaints, Rollins appealed.
The D.C. Circuit upheld all of the lower court rulings. On the Wackenhut claims, it found that the claim didn’t fall within the exceptions to the suicide rule, including the “special relationship” rule that Rollins invoked. It also rejected her claim that other exceptions may exist, and thus it should certify two questions on exceptions to the D.C. Court of Appeals. Saying such a rule would be so broad that all cases would be appealable, it declined to certify the questions. On the pharmaceutical claims, the court agreed that Rollins simply did not adequately state her claim for product liability, saying she didn’t even specify whether it was a defect or failure to warn claim. It also upheld the trial court’s refusal to allow leave to amend, because she never requested it properly.
As a dangerous drug attorney, I’m disappointed to see that Rollins was unable to pursue her claim for reasons that appear to be largely procedural. (It’s also disappointing to see the dismissal of the Wackenhut claims, given that the company should have known that Bailey was forbidden from having a gun.) It’s possible that she had an adequate claim against the drug manufacturers and just didn’t state it correctly, which is a very disappointing reason to be denied any relief. The suicide risk of antidepressants is very well known and may form the basis of many other lawsuits, and it’s particularly disturbing given the population in which those drugs are used. This kind of dismissal is one reason why people with drug claims should always get help from an experienced defective drug lawyer when they pursue their claims.
If you suffered an injury, illness or death in the family after taking a drug you believe was dangerous, don’t wait to call Carey, Danis & Lowe. Based in St. Louis, we represent clients across the United States in individual and class actions. For a free consultation, call us today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us an email.
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