The drug Mirapex is prescribed for treatment of Parkinson’s disease, but it has an unusual but frightening unexpected side effect: compulsive gambling. This drug has not been getting the same kind of press attention that drugs like Avandia have, so as a defective drug attorney, I was pleased to see an Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision on the subject. In Gazal v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Pfizer, Inc., Pharmacia Corporation and Pharmacia & Upjohn, LLC, Nabil Gazal sued the maker of Mirapex for breach of warranty and failure to warn after he developed a serious gambling problem he ascribed to treatment with Mirapex. Gazal, who lived in Australia and Texas, died partway through the legal process, so his widow, Maud Ledhagen Gazal, continued the appeal.
Gazal was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2002, when doctors at Baylor University prescribed him Mirapex. He began noticing increased urges to gamble shortly thereafter and started losing large amounts of money. Two studies came out in 2005 and 2008 linking Mirapex with gambling, and at least one doctor suggested to him that Mirapex was the problem.Twice, Gazal checked into the hospital for two weeks to try unsuccessfully to quit Mirapex. In early 2006, he wrote to several businesses and acquaintances requesting that they not gamble with him. Nonetheless, he continued to gamble, losing millions and creating problems with his family. His Baylor doctors renewed his prescription in 2007.
Gazal finally succeeded in quitting in May of 2009 and filed this lawsuit against the pharmaceutical corporations. His suit was transferred to Minnesota federal court as part of the Mirapex Pharmaceutical Liability Multidistrict Litigation. The pharmaceutical companies then successfully moved for summary judgment, arguing that Gazal had missed the statute of limitations because his claim started accruing in 2005, when the first study linked Mirapex and gambling. This appeal followed.
On appeal, Maud Gazal argued that the statute of limitations should properly start accruing in 2008, when a stronger study made a causal connection between Mirapex and compulsive gambling. The pharmaceutical companies maintained that 2005 was the proper start date, when the first study linked the two. The Eighth Circuit agreed. Under Texas caselaw, a claim starts accruing when symptoms become so severe or common that a reasonable person would be put on notice that there’s an injury. No scientific studies are required under that standard, the court noted. Thus, Gazal was on notice in 2005, when his symptoms were obvious and a study, a doctor and he himself were all able to connect them with Mirapex. The court also rejected arguments that the statute of limitations should have been tolled. The continuing tort and open courts doctrines both require that plaintiffs not be aware of the injury, which the court had decided Gazan was. Nor was the claim unripe, it said. Finally, it rejected Gazal’s argument that he was of unsound mind in 2005, pointing out that no doctor proposed this and that Gazal remained able to run a profitable company while he was taking Mirapex. Thus, the summary judgment order for the defendants was upheld.
For me, as a dangerous drug lawyer, this decision underscores the importance of taking action quickly. The multidistrict litigation for Mirapex suggests that many people who have similar claims are having their days in court. Gazal may have had a very strong case, but his family will never have their own day in court because the deadline was judged passed. This is why it’s vital to take action early if you plan to pursue a lawsuit, especially a complex one involving serious medical problems or a lawsuit against government agencies. Both of these can be extremely time-consuming, and claims against government agencies generally require plaintiffs to exhaust an administrative process before they can actually sue. As a pharmaceutical liability attorney, I encourage potential clients to get in touch with me as soon as they start considering a legal claim.
If you or someone in your family was hurt by a prescription or over-the-counter drug you thought you could trust, don’t hesitate to contact Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. For a free, confidential case evaluation, send us an email or call us toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.
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