Suit May Proceed with Man Who Gouged Out His Eyes While in Jail

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A judge said today he is inclined to keep Pfizer Inc. as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by a man who claims its Chantix anti-smoking medication was a factor in a psychotic breakdown that led him to gouge his eyes out while jailed in Los Angeles. 

However, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel Murphy took plaintiff Michael Shabsis' case under submission and did not issue a final ruling. Pfizer's lawyers maintain in their court papers that federal law supersedes Shabsis' state law claims. They also argue in their court papers that the product label warning for Chantix was adequate and that manufacturers of such prescription drugs have an obligation to provide warnings to doctors, but not to patients like Shabsis.

In his tentative ruling, Murphy suggested that the argument may not be a fruitful one for Pfizer.``Congress evinced no intention of preempting state tort liability law for injuries from prescription drugs,'' Murphy wrote. 

Murphy said he also is inclined to permit Shabsis to seek punitive damages. However, the judge said he is leaning toward dismissing Shabsis' claims for strict products liability and breach of express warranty. Shabsis filed his lawsuit in December 2014, alleging that his breakdown occurred ``in part or in whole'' because he was taking Chantix. 

Named as defendants along with Pfizer are the University of California Board of Regents, Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA, Dr. Philip Cogen, Los Angeles County and former Sheriff Lee Baca. Cogen worked at Resnick Hospital and prescribed Chantix to Shabsis, the suit says. 

According to Pfizer's lawyers' court papers, since 2009 the FDA-approved Chantix has included a box label warning of possible ``serious neuropsychiatric events'' that include ``worsening pre-existing psychiatric illness and attempted suicide.'' The label further warns that the risks of Chantix ``should be weighed against the benefits of its use.''

Shabsis says he began using Chantix in September 2013 to break a smoking habit, with a prescription provided by Cogen. Four months later, he says he suffered a psychotic breakdown that led to him to be violent toward his grandfather. 

Shabsis was arrested and taken to the Twin Towers jail, where he was put in isolation despite being ``in the midst of a severe manic episode,'' according to his court papers. He says he became ``delirious and delusional'' while by himself in a cell. 

The pain became so intense and the glare of the lights so disturbing that on Jan. 2, 2014, Shabsis used ``his own hands and fingers to gouge out both his eyes as he believed he was in hell,'' according to his lawsuit.

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