SHERMAN -- In a suit recently transferred to the East Texas federal court, the maker of a popular anti-depressant drug is being blamed for a murder-suicide committed by a woman who had taken the drug.
Court papers say that after taking Pfizer's drug Zoloft, 41-year-old Andrea Roberts shot and killed her two children and husband before turning the gun on herself.
Her parents, Glenda and John Robert McCoy, and brother, John Andrew McCoy, acting pro se, first filed a suit in Denton County on July 31 on behalf of decedents Jon Andrea Roberts, Michael Roberts, Micayla Roberts and Dylan Roberts.
Pfizer Inc., Pfizer Chairman Jeffrey Kindler, Pfizer subsidiary Greenstone Pharmaceuticals and Does 1-50 were named as defendants.
Pfizer had the case transferred to the Sherman Division of the Eastern District of Texas on Sept. 28.
According to the suit, on July 24, 2007, Andrea Roberts bought Zoloft from a Tom Thumb Pharmacy in Flower Mound.
Zoloft is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor prescribed to patients for many psychiatric conditions and is designed to be taken orally once a day or more often as directed by a physician.
The suit does not state why Roberts was taking the medication, how long she had taken it or the doctor who had prescribed it.
One week after she picked up the prescription, the Robert and her family were dead.
Andrea Roberts allegedly shot and killed her two children Micayla and Dylan, her husband, Michael, and then committed suicide at their home in Denton on July 31, 2007. According to the suit, in the days leading up to the incident Roberts had become paranoid and delusional.
"The surviving plaintiffs allege that the product Zoloft caused these violent acts," the complaint states. "In the alternative, the surviving plaintiffs allege that the product Zoloft was a contributing cause accounting for causing or worsening decedent Andrea Roberts' condition to the point of causing paranoia, psychosis, homicidal thinking or other symptoms inhibiting her judgment leading to the commission of homicidal and suicidal actions."
In its Notice of Removal, Pfizer argues there are many inconsistencies in the plaintiffs' complaint.
"Although this action can be fairly characterized as a products liability case, plaintiffs purport to assert a wide variety of claims in this lawsuit and their Petition is confusing and contradictory," Pfizer states.
The plaintiffs argue that because Andrea Roberts did not consent to taking "a drug that causes homicide," she should be considered "involuntarily intoxicated" and therefore not guilty of contributory negligence or assumption of risk.
Pfizer knew from reports and studies that Zoloft could cause homicidal actions, the suit alleges, but failed to include that information on the drug's warning label.
The label did contain a warning that children and teenagers may have an increased risk of suicidal thinking, but it did not mention adults being at risk of committing suicide or that the drug could cause any homicidal thoughts or actions.
Because of the omissions from the label, the plaintiffs allege Pfizer committed "fraud, misrepresentation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, aggravated or gross negligence, battery, assault, and potentially, premeditated murder."
They also claim a safer alternative design of the drug existed, but Pfizer "chose to manufacture and the dangerous drug anyway."
"Defendants' conduct was extreme and outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society," the suit states.
The plaintiffs cite several causes of action throughout the complaint.
Pfizer argues that while the plaintiffs appear to be asserting a claim for products liability, they also assert claims for negligent manufacture, design and marketing; a wrongful death and survival action; and intentional infliction of emotional distress as well as actual and punitive damages.
They are also claiming breach of warranty, fraud, misrepresentation, aggravated or gross negligence, battery, assault and even murder.
Pfizer writes that the complaint incorrectly lists Greenstone Pharmaceuticals as a subsidiary of Pfizer when it is not.
In addition, Jeffrey Kindler is listed as a defendant in the style of the case, but the petition does not identify him as a party to the case and there are no allegations against Kindler in the complaint.
As to damages, Pfizer points out the varying amounts mentioned in the plaintiffs' petition.
In one place, the plaintiffs state they are seeking to recover $900,000 in Andrea's lost earnings and $4 million for Michael's.
Then they ask for $23 million for the products liability claims, $20,000 for funeral and burial costs, $1 million for each of the surviving plaintiffs and $5 million for each of the decedents to compensate them for their loss of affection, companionship and pecuniary support.
At other places in the complaint, it states plaintiffs are limiting damages to $50,000.
"The pro se Plaintiffs' Petition appears to have been put together using a legal form," Pfizer writes.
Pfizer is represented by Laura E. De Santos of Clark, Thomas & Winters PC in Houston. Jack E. Urquhart of Clark, Thomas is of counsel.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Michael H. Schneider and referred to Magistrate Judge A. L. Mazzant.
Case No. 4:09-cv-496-MHS-ALM