Pfizer Inc. (PFE) reached a confidential settlement with the widow of a Minnesota man who killed himself after taking its anti-smoking drug Chantix, averting a trial set to begin next week.
The widow of Mark Alan Whitely sued Pfizer after his death in November 2007, alleging the company failed to sufficiently warn that Chantix could increase the risk of suicide. The Whitely lawsuit was the first of more than 2,500 Chantix cases pending in federal court in Alabama set for trial, according to court records.
“We can confirm that we have settled this case,” Chris Loder, a Pfizer spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement today. “Terms are confidential.”
The settlement comes after Pfizer appealed U.S. District Judge Inge Johnson’s order that its Chief Executive Officer Ian Read and two other executives testify in person at the Whitely trial. Read and the other executives dropped the appeal yesterday as moot, or unnecessary, because a settlement had been reached, according to court records.
“Mr. Whitely’s family is happy with the settlement,” Ernest Cory, a Birmingham, Alabama-based lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said in a telephone interview.
The Whitely case and other lawsuits have been combined in a multidistrict litigation before Johnson in Alabama for pretrial evidence-gathering and the first trials.
The lawsuits claim that Chantix causes depression and other psychiatric disorders, some so severe that patients attempt or commit suicide. The plaintiffs allege that Pfizer knew of a link between Chantix and suicide and failed to sufficiently warn patients.
Pfizer has denied that Chantix was the cause of Whitely’s suicide or that the company withheld information about the drug.
Pfizer has provided warnings on the package insert of reports of suicidal thoughts since 2006, Johnson said in court papers in July. The notice was updated in 2007 and 2008, “culminating in a ‘black box warning’ being placed on the package insert in July 2009,” she said.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers contend that Pfizer should have provided such warnings earlier.
Cory said he didn’t believe the Whitely settlement was a signal that Pfizer was pushing to settle the cases that have been consolidated before Johnson in federal court in Florence, Alabama.
The accord “was a one-off as far as I can tell,” Cory said. “I represent close to 400 families and I haven’t gotten an offer to settle any of their claims so far.”
Cory said Johnson has set the next of four so-called bellwether trials over the Chantix claims for January in Alabama.
The consolidated cases are In re Chantix (Varenicline) Products Liability Litigation MDL 2092, 09-cv-2039 U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama (Florence).
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