Forest Laboratories paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits over Lexapro and Celexa. The federal courts managed scores of lawsuits in two separate multidistrict litigations. One class action case led to hundreds of patients receiving refunds. The refunds were for drugs patients said they were misled into purchasing.
* UPDATE: As of July 2018, a majority of lawsuits involving Celexa and Lexapro had ended in settlements or were dismissed. Drugwatch’s legal partners are not accepting Celexa or Lexapro cases at this time.
Celexa and Lexapro have been the subject of thousands of lawsuits around the country. The legal actions blamed the antidepressants for suicides and birth defects.
Litigation involving Celexa and Lexapro was winding down in 2018. Those involved reached multimillion-dollar settlements before any of the lawsuits went to trial.
Both drugs are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). They work by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain.
Forest Laboratories makes the drugs. It developed Lexapro by changing the molecular structure of Celexa.
Lawsuits against Forest Laboratories sought compensation for different kinds of injuries. Suicide and birth defects were the main focus of the cases.
Women who took one or both of the antidepressants while pregnant claimed they were unaware of the risk to their babies. They blamed the drugs for their children’s birth defects.
Lawsuits also blamed the drugs for causing suicides and suicide attempts.
Lawsuits accused Forest Laboratories of hiding the drugs’ risks.
Patients and health insurance providers also said Forest illegally paid doctors to get them to prescribe the antidepressants.
Celexa and Lexapro were jointly part of two different multidistrict litigations, or MDLs. The majority of cases in those MDLs ended in settlements, or judges dismissed the cases before trials begun.
Federal courts use multidistrict litigations to manage large numbers of lawsuits. The lawsuits must have similar issues. A federal panel assigns a single judge to oversee the cases.
The first MDL for lawsuits involving Celexa and Lexapro began in 2006. The MDL panel assigned it to U.S. District Judge Rodney W. Sippel in the Eastern District of Missouri.
It involved cases filed by or on behalf of patients who attempted or committed suicide. The lawsuits blamed the drugs for causing the suicides and suicide attempts.
In all, 57 cases made up that MDL. By the end, 32 of the cases settled. The judge dismissed 11 cases. He sent the remaining 13 cases back to their original courts in 2013.
The second MDL involving Celexa and Lexapro began in 2009. U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton oversaw the proceedings in Massachusetts.
Lawsuits claimed Forest wrongly promoted the drugs for pediatric or adolescent patients. The lawsuits also alleged that Forest had illegally paid doctors to get them to prescribe the drugs to young patients.
Many of those cases were part of a settlement reached in 2014. Others were later dismissed. As of July 2018, only two lawsuits remained in the MDL.
Off-label marketing to children also resulted in Lexapro and Celexa criminal charges against Forest Pharmaceuticals. The company pleaded guilty to the federal charges in 2010. It agreed to pay more than $313 million in penalties and fines.
In January 2014, Judge Gorton approved a class action for some Missouri plaintiffs. The class action included Missouri people who purchased Celexa or Lexapro for a patient under the age of 18. It also included insurance providers.
The drug purchases happened between Jan. 1, 1998 and Dec. 31, 2013.
The plaintiffs claimed Forest misled the parents of the effectiveness of the drug in children. Their lawsuits claimed Celexa is no more effective than a sugar pill when used to treat children and adolescents.
Gorton certified the Missouri class action under a Missouri consumer protection law. Forest agreed to a settlement two months later.
Others who filed federal lawsuits in the Massachusetts MDL asked for class action status. These class actions were to represent people who purchased Celexa or Lexapro for pediatric patients in Minnesota, Washington and New Mexico.
One of those filers was union health benefits provider Painters and Allied Trades District 82 Council Health Care Fund. But Gorton denied those motions.
Gorton dismissed those lawsuits in January 2018. The judge granted a motion by Forest for summary judgment.
In other words, he ruled for the manufacturer on the legal issues involved in the complaints. In part, Gorton wrote, the plaintiffs had failed to prove the drugs were ineffective.
Forest settled most federal lawsuits over Celexa and Lexapro, including a class action.
The settlement money would pay refunds to Missouri residents who said the company misled them. The money also covered legal fees, administrative costs and other fees.
The exact amount paid to individual patients and their parents is not known. But a document filed with the Massachusetts federal court in 2017 provides some details of how the company distributed the class action funds.
According to the filing on July 18, 2017, a total of 687 plaintiffs had been paid more than $4.7 million. The individual consumers collected a total of about $599,000. The remaining $4.1 million went to insurance providers. The filing doesn’t say how many individual consumers were paid.
Also, the fund administrator paid $2.7 million to a law firm that represented the plaintiffs. That payment included $325,000 in the firm’s expenses, plus attorneys’ fees.
Patients and parents of patients have also filed lawsuits against Forest in state courts around the country. In particular, cases were concentrated in West Virginia, New Jersey and St. Louis.
In 2015, 12 women filed lawsuits against Forest in West Virginia Circuit Court. The women said they gave birth to children with severe medical problems after they took Celexa or Lexapro.
In February 2012, three mothers who took Lexapro during pregnancy filed lawsuits against Forest in St. Louis Circuit Court. The women said they did not know about increased risks until their children were born with birth defects.
Forest tried to move at least 15 lawsuits from New Jersey state courts to federal court in that state. But in 2014, a federal judge sent the cases back to their original state courts.
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