The Seventh Circuit just released its published opinion affirming the judgment entered on a defense verdict in an SSRI-suicide case. Giles v. Wyeth, No. 07-3149, slip op. (7th Cir. Feb. 12, 2009) (link here). Since Herrmann both tried the case and argued the appeal, we’ll be circumspect with what we say here.
Jeff Giles was 46 years old, unemployed, and in chronic pain in fall 2002, when his physician diagnosed him with major depressive disorder and prescribed the antidepressant Effexor. Giles took three Effexor pills over the course of two days and then committed suicide by gunshot. Giles’ widow filed a product liability complaint, alleging that Giles’ ingestion of the antidepressant caused him to kill himself.
After a three-week jury trial, the 12-person jury took three hours to render a unanimous defense verdict.
On appeal, plaintiff challenged the trial judge’s decisions to (1) exclude warnings that accompanied Effexor after Giles’ death in 2002 and (2) admit scientific knowledge learned after Giles’ death, which suggests that SSRI or SNRI antidepressants are not associated with suicidality in adults over the age of 24.
The Seventh Circuit first held that the trial court had excluded the later warnings under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, and that decision was reviewable only for abuse of discretion. The trial court did not abuse its discretion because, among other reasons, “the excluded warnings did not help establish that Wyeth knew or should have known about an increased risk of suicidality in adults of Mr. Giles’ age. Mr. Giles was forty-six years old when he took Effexor. The excluded post-2002 warnings, however, focused on children and adults younger than twenty-five years old.” Slip op. at 8-9.
The trial court also did not abuse its discretion by admitting scientific evidence learned after Giles’ suicide. “The question at trial was not whether scientific knowledge in existence in 2002 demonstrated that Effexor caused Mr. Giles to take his life, it was whether Effexor caused him to take his life. If later studies shed light on that answer, all the better.” Id. at 12.
With all due respect to ourselves, the legal issues involved in this appeal were routine. The main significance of the decision is simply the fact that another defense verdict in an SSRI-suicide case has been affirmed.