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Cymbalta Lawsuits

People who say they were injured by the antidepressant Cymbalta have filed lawsuits against its maker, Eli Lilly, and have been trying to gain class action certification from the courts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit temporarily halted proceedings, which involve claims that Cymbalta caused severe withdrawal symptoms.

*Please seek the advice of a medical professional before discontinuing the use of this drug.

Cymbalta Lawsuit Facts

Number of Lawsuits: More than 5,000

Plaintiff Injuries: Withdrawal complications, including brain zaps, suicidal thoughts, dizziness, nausea, nightmares and weight changes

Defendants: Eli Lilly and Company

MDL Location: The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California denied class-action certification.

Litigation Status: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit temporarily halted proceedings on Feb. 21, 2017.

Cymbalta Class Action Certification

In October 2012, former users of the antidepressant Cymbalta filed a class action in the Central District of California asserting that they, and other persons similarly situated, were harmed because the drug’s maker, Eli Lilly, misrepresented the drug.

A class action is a type of legal action in which people join together to sue because they have similar claims against a common defendant or defendants. For the case against Eli Lilly to proceed as a class action, the court must certify the class. So, in August 2013, the plaintiffs moved for certification of classes of consumers in four states: California, Massachusetts, Missouri and New York.

Map of US highlighting CA, MA, MO & NY

California, Massachusetts, Missouri and New York moved for certification of classes in order to file a class action again Eli Lilly

However, the district court denied the plaintiffs’ motions for class certification on December 18, 2014. Plaintiffs filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit requesting permission to file an appeal of the denial of class certification. That too was denied.

Plaintiffs filed a second motion for certification under the consumer protection acts of New York and Massachusetts. The district court denied that motion for class certification on July 21, 2015.

Now, plaintiffs are appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The court stayed (halted) the appeal on February 21, 2017, until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules in a different case involving Microsoft.

The Microsoft case asks whether a federal court of appeals has jurisdiction to review an order denying class certification after the named plaintiffs voluntarily dismiss their claims with prejudice. According to Eli Lilly, the Microsoft decision matters because plaintiffs in the Cymbalta case voluntarily dismissed their claims with prejudice after the district court denied their most recent motion for class certification.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in Microsoft on March 21, 2017.

Lawsuit Claims

Lawsuits against Eli Lilly say Cymbalta users face “severe physiological and psychological symptoms when they attempt to stop” taking the drug, including dizziness, nausea, headache, fatigue, paresthesia, vomiting, irritability, nightmares, insomnia, diarrhea, anxiety, hyperhidrosis and vertigo.

Of their many claims in court documents, plaintiffs say Eli Lilly:

  • “Overstated the efficacy of Cymbalta” and “downplayed and/or failed to state the true withdrawal side effects associated with Cymbalta”
  • Failed to properly warn patients about the risks and of the “frequency, severity, and/or duration of Cymbalta withdrawal”
  • Benefitted from patients who started taking Cymbalta again (becoming physically dependent on the drug) to avoid terrible side effects
  • Advertised the benefits of the drug, even those that were not proven
  • Produced a defective drug

The lawsuits also say Eli Lilly deceived the public by including in the drug’s label that only 1 percent of users experienced withdrawal symptoms, when in reality studies show between 44 and 50 percent suffered from discontinuation problems.

Of those who suffered withdrawal effects, about half experienced “moderate” or “persistent” symptoms. And one in 10 experienced “severe” symptoms.  The plaintiffs say “nowhere on Cymbalta’s label does it indicate the potential duration of withdrawal symptoms.”

People Who Filed Lawsuits

Men and women who have filed Cymbalta withdrawal lawsuits say had they known the truth about the frequency, severity and duration of Cymbalta withdrawal they would not have started taking Cymbalta.  Among the people who filed lawsuits against Eli Lilly are:

Jennifer Saavedra

Jennifer Saavedra filed suit in California against Eli Lilly after she tried to stop using Cymbalta and experienced brain zaps, body shaking and tunnel vision. It took her a year to finally recover. In the meantime, her life was disrupted. Her complaint claimed withdrawal symptoms were more prevalent than Lilly claimed and that the company misled the public.

Melissa Stafford

Melissa Stafford also filed her lawsuit in California. She was forced to continue using Cymbalta to avoid debilitating side effects. After she finally stopped taking the drug, she suffered for months. Her lawsuit accuses Lilly of deceiving the public about the risks of the drug.

Withdrawal complications that lead patients and their families to file Cymbalta lawsuits include:

  • Brain Zaps
  • Nausea
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Nightmares
  • Dizziness
  • Weight changes

Multidistrict Litigation Denied

Counsel for plaintiffs in 25 federal court proceedings against Eli Lilly tried unsuccessfully to have the then-filed cases and an unspecified number of future cases coordinated into a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The purpose of an MDL is to avoid duplication and inconsistencies in the pretrial procedures and rulings and to conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the courts.

In a December 2014 order denying the MDL transfer, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation took issue with the fact that the cases’ histories vary significantly and that only two firms represent the plaintiffs in all the actions. The panel did, however, recognize that the actions were “highly similar.”

Plaintiffs in all actions allege:

  • They suffered a variety of withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing use of Cymbalta
  • The label for the drug fails to adequately warn of the risks of such symptoms
  • Eli Lilly’s promotional campaigns for the drug have overstated its efficacy while understating, downplaying or failing altogether to state its withdrawal side effects

The panel said in its order that it had been informed of 21 additional related federal actions. Plaintiffs’ counsel subsequently filed a second petition seeking MDL consolidation. The panel denied the petition in October 2015.

California Cymbalta Trials

About 35 individual and multi-plaintiff cases have been filed in California state court.  Many of the cases have been consolidated in a California Judicial Council Coordination Proceeding in Los Angeles. The first individual product liability cases went to trial in August 2015 and resulted in verdicts in favor of Eli Lilly. Two of the plaintiffs filed notices of appeal.

Herrera v. Eli Lilly & Co.

Claudia Herrera’s case against Eli Lilly became the first of four cases regarding Cymbalta withdrawal symptoms to go to trial in federal court in California in August 2015.

According to Herrera’s lawsuit, she began using Cymbalta in 2006 to treat her anxiety. In 2012, Herrera’s doctor instructed her to slowly stop taking the drug. Herrera says she suffered electric-like “zaps,” anxiety, spasms and suicidal thoughts, among other withdrawal symptoms, as a result.

Herrera accused Eli Lilly of downplaying its warnings to make Cymbalta more marketable. The jury cleared Eli Lilly of liability. Herrera filed a notice of appeal after losing her trial.

Cymbalta New York Trial

California is not the only state seeing legal actions against Cymbalta’s maker. In its 2015 annual report, Eli Lilly said it was “named in approximately 140 lawsuits involving approximately 1,300 plaintiffs filed in various federal and state courts alleging injuries arising from discontinuation of treatment with Cymbalta.” News reports from that same year say the company faces more than 5,000 Cymbalta withdrawal cases. One publicized case is out of New York.

McDowell v. Eli Lilly & Co.

Jesse McDowell filed his lawsuit in New York, claiming Cymbalta’s label was inaccurate.

McDowell said he suffered “serious and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms” from Cymbalta. He argued that the drug’s label was misleading because it said the symptoms occurred in patients “at a rate of greater than or equal to 1 percent” when the actual rates were closer to 50 percent.

U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet tossed the suit, ruling the label adequately warned doctors about possible withdrawal symptoms. The federal judge said the label’s language followed FDA regulations.

Suicide Settlement

Cymbalta was not on the market long before it became tied to the suicide of a 16-year-old boy. Peter Schilf began taking samples of the antidepressant given by his doctor in November 2004, just three months after the drug gained approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of depression. A month later, Schilf fatally shot himself on Christmas Eve. The FDA required its strongest warning, a black box warning, about suicide be added to the drug’s label in 2005.

Suicidality and Antidepressant Drugs
Antidepressants increased the risk compared to placebo of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children, adolescents, and young adults in short-term studies of major depressive disorder (MDD) and other psychiatric disorders. Anyone considering the use of NORPRAMIN or any other antidepressant in a child, adolescent, or young adult must balance this risk with the clinical need. Short-term studies did not show an increase in the risk of suicidality with antidepressants compared to placebo in adults beyond age 24; there was a reduction in risk with antidepressants compared to placebo in adults aged 65 and older. Depression and certain other psychiatric disorders are themselves associated with increases in the risk of suicide. Patients of all ages who are started on antidepressant therapy should be monitored appropriately and observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality, or unusual changes in behavior. Families and caregivers should be advised of the need for close observation and communication with the prescriber. NORPRAMIN is not approved for use in pediatric patients. (See WARNINGS: Clinical Worsening and Suicide Risk, PRECAUTIONS: Information for Patients, and PRECAUTIONS: Pediatric Use.)
Zoloft black box warning label

A lawsuit filed against Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of Cymbalta, said neither Schilf nor his mother was told that some Cymbalta users were inclined toward suicide. It also claimed doctors were not informed that a participant during a trial of the drug hanged himself.

In April 2013, Eli Lilly agreed to settle the suit before it went to trial. The amount of the settlement was kept confidential.


Emily is a former journalist with experience in health care writing. She graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

View Sources
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  7. U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. (n.d.). Overview of Panel. Retrieved from http://www.jpml.uscourts.gov/overview-panel-0
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Free Cymbalta Lawsuits Case Review