Effexor, Lexapro, Prozac, Zoloft, and Other Antidepressant Drugs

Learn the basics of product liability claims resulting from antidepressant drug side effects.

Updated by , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

If you have suffered injuries or serious side effects caused by an antidepressant you are taking, you may have a defective product liability claim. (To learn more about drug related product liability claims in general, read Nolo's article Product Liability Claims Involving Pharmaceutical Drugs.)

Many antidepressants are in a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors ("SSRI's"). There are numerous SSRI's and other antidepressants currently on the market, including the following:

  • Celexa
  • Effexor
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Lexapro
  • Paxil
  • Prozac
  • Serzone
  • Symbyax
  • Zoloft

In recent years, reports of serious side effects from taking antidepressant drugs have increased, and many lawsuits have been filed against drug manufacturers in connection with the side effects of antidepressants. The focus of these lawsuits is typically a products liability claim.

In a products liability lawsuit, the plaintiff seeks compensation for injuries caused by a consumer product. When the injury-causing product is a pharmaceutical drug, the most common claims are that:

  • the drug causes unreasonably dangerous side effects, and
  • the manufacturer, doctor, or pharmacy (among others) failed to provide adequate warnings or instructions regarding the drug's use.

Reported Side Effects of Anti-Depressants

In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") has issued warnings linking the use of SSRIs to:

  • a life-threatening condition called "serotonin syndrome"
  • an increased risk of giving birth to an infant with a serious condition called "persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn" (when SSRIs are taken during pregnancy), and
  • an increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior (also called "suicidality") when taken by children, adolescents, and adults.

Depending on the specific antidepressant you are taking, there may be other possible side effects. For example, Serzone has been the subject of an FDA warning concerning possible liver damage.

Evaluating Your Potential Claim

If you have been injured by an antidepressant you took, knowing what you're up against may be helpful in evaluating whether you have a valid legal claim. As a general matter, you will have to prove three things in order to win your lawsuit:

  • You were injured.
  • The antidepressant you took causes unreasonably dangerous side effects or the manufacturer, pharmacy, doctor, or others didn't provide adequate warnings or instructions regarding the use of the antidepressant.
  • The antidepressant was the cause of your injury.

In products liability claims involving antidepressants, the outcome of the case often comes down to the second and third issues listed above, and the drug manufacturer and any other defendants will likely fight you on both.

Keep in mind that many drugs are known to carry serious risks; so long as you are properly advised of those risks and you and your doctors decide the risks are worth taking in view of your condition, even if you suffer serious side effects you probably won't have much of a lawsuit. (To learn more about evaluating and proving a drug-related product liability claim, read Nolo's article Proving a Defective Product Liability Claim.)

You may also have a medical malpractice claim or other legal claims depending on the details of your particular case. (To learn more about medical malpractice claims, read Nolo's article Medical Malpractice Basics.)

How Long Do I Have To File My Lawsuit?

The answer to this very important question may vary depending on the law of the state that applies to your claim. Every state sets certain time limits, called the "statute of limitations," on bringing product liability claims. (To learn more about these time limits, read Nolo's article Time Limits for Filing a Defective Product Liability Claim. To find the time limits in your state, see Chart: Statutes of Limitations in All 50 States.)

As with any personal injury lawsuit, file your lawsuit as soon as possible. Or, at a minimum, make sure you know the deadline.

Class Action Lawsuits

You may be only one of a large number of people who have suffered similar side effects from taking the same antidepressant you took. In such cases, you may be able to band together and file a class action lawsuit.

In some cases, a class action may already have been filed in connection with the antidepressant that injured you (the Paxil class action is one current example), and you may have the option of joining that already-existing lawsuit. (To learn about the pros and cons of joining a class action, read Nolo's article Product Liability Claims Involving Pharmaceutical Drugs.)

Getting Help

Defective product cases involving antidepressants or other pharmaceutical drugs are usually not the kind of lawsuits in which you can represent yourself effectively. The legal and medical issues in such cases are often complex and sophisticated. Depending on your case, you may wish to retain the services of a lawyer who specializes in products liability (and perhaps even one who specializes in drug cases).

You may also want to consult with a lawyer to find out if there is an already existing class action concerning the antidepressant that you took, and if so, whether you should join that class action. (If a class action already exists, consider contacting the lawyers for the class directly; they will likely be very interested in talking with you.) Such initial consultations are usually free of charge.

For help in choosing a good personal injury attorney, read Nolo's article Finding a Personal Injury Lawyer. Or, go to Nolo's Lawyer Directory for a list of personal injury attorneys in your geographical area (click on the "Types of Cases" and "Work History" tabs to find out about the lawyer's experience, if any, with pharmaceutical drug cases.)

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