Risperdal, Seroquel, Symbyax, Zyprexa, and Other Antipsychotic Drugs

You may have an injury claim for side effects from taking anti-psychotic drugs to treat schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

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

If you have suffered serious side effects from taking an atypical antipsychotic drug, 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.)

Atypical antipsychotics are a class of drugs used in the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. There are several commonly prescribed atypical antipsychotic drugs currently on the market, including:

  • Abilify
  • Geodon
  • Risperdal
  • Seroquel
  • Symbyax, and
  • Zyprexa.

The popularity of these drugs now rivals even that of cholesterol-lowering statins, but it's the safety of antipsychotic drugs -- and the way they are marketed by drug manufacturers -- that continues to grab headlines. In recent years the manufacturers of Zyprexa (Eli Lilly) and Geodon (Pfizer) have paid record criminal fines over charges that the companies engaged in unlawful drug marketing tactics. And on the product safety side, there have been numerous reports of serious side effects experienced by people who have taken atypical antipsychotic drugs. A large number of lawsuits have been filed against drug manufacturers in connection with the side effects of atypical antipsychotic drugs. 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 caused unreasonably dangerous side effects, and
  • the manufacturer, the doctor, or the pharmacy (among others) did not provide sufficient warnings or instructions regarding the use of the drug.

Reported Side Effects of Atypical Antipsychotic Drugs

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings linking the use of atypical antipsychotic drugs to:

  • a life-threatening nervous system problem called neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS)
  • a movement problem called tardive dyskinesia (TD)
  • high blood sugar and diabetes, and
  • an increased chance of death in elderly patients.

There may also be other possible side effects depending on the specific atypical antipsychotic drug.

Evaluating Your Potential Claim

If you have been injured by an atypical antipsychotic drug you took, you will have to prove three things in order to win your lawsuit:

  • you suffered an injury from side effects
  • the atypical antipsychotic drug 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 drug, and
  • the atypical antipsychotic drug was the cause of your injury.

The outcome of the case will 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; as 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 be able to sue. (To learn more about evaluating and proving a drug-related product liability claim, read Nolo's article Proving a Defective Product Liability Claim.)

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. For the statutes of limitations for bringing injury lawsuits in your state, see Chart: Statutes of Limitations in All 50 States.)

As with any personal injury lawsuit, you should file your lawsuit as soon as possible, or at a minimum, make sure you know the deadline, and don't miss it.

Class Action Lawsuits

You are likely only one of a large number of people who have suffered similar side effects from taking the same atypical antipsychotic drug. In such cases, you may be able to join together and file a class action lawsuit.

In some cases, a class action may already have been filed in connection with the atypical antipsychotic drug that injured you. Class actions have been filed in recent years in connection with Zyprexa as well as other atypical antipsychotic drugs. You may have the option of joining an 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

You can't usually represent yourself effectively in defective product cases involving atypical antipsychotic drugs because the legal and medical issues in these cases are often complex and sophisticated. Depending on your case, you may wish to hire a lawyer who specializes in products liability (and even better, one who has experience in drug cases).

You may also want to ask a lawyer to find out if there is an already existing class action concerning the atypical antipsychotic drug that you took, and if so, whether it is advisable for you to join that class action. (If there is an already existing class action, contact the lawyers for the "class" directly; they will likely be 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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