Cases & Deals

Wyeth obtains 5th Circuit affirmance of summary judgment entry in products liability action related to prescription antidepressant

Client(s) Wyeth Pharmaceuticals

On April 24, 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the trial court's entry of summary judgment in favor of Jones Day client Wyeth in Ackermann v. Wyeth, 526 F.3d 203 (5th Cir. 2008). This products liability action was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas and alleged that purportedly inadequate warnings accompanying Wyeth's prescription antidepressant caused the plaintiff's decedent's suicide. The record developed in discovery showed, among other things, that the prescribing physician was aware of claims that modern antidepressants might be associated with increased suicidality, that he monitored carefully for potential signs of suicide, and that he would not have altered the course of treatment if different or additional suicide-related warnings had been provided. Under the so-called learned intermediary doctrine that applies to prescription drugs, (1) drug manufacturers have a duty to warn physicians, rather than patients; and (2) plaintiffs must establish that different or additional warnings to the physician would have altered the treatment so as to prevent the injury at issue. Wyeth moved for summary judgment on the plaintiff's warnings claims based on, among other grounds, the learned intermediary doctrine, and the district court granted the motion. 471 F. Supp. 2d 739 (E.D. Tex. 2006).

In a detailed opinion by Chief Judge Edith H. Jones, the Fifth Circuit affirmed. The Court found that (a) the record showed that the prescribing physician "would have prescribed [the antidepressant] even had the warnings been stronger;" (b) Texas does not recognize a "read and heed" presumption in cases involving learned intermediaries, and (c) if a "read and heed" presumption applied, "it would not change the result" given the physician's unequivocal testimony.

Ackermann v. Wyeth, 526 F.3d 203 (5th Cir. 2008)