Lawsuits Over Antipsychotic Drugs

Anti-psychotic drugs like like Risperdal, Seroquel, Symbyax, and Zyprexa have prompted personal injury claims over alleged side effects.

Updated by , Attorney UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated 3/18/2024

Since their introduction, antipsychotic drugs have become an important treatment for mental health disorders. The popularity of these drugs now rivals even that of cholesterol-lowering statins. But drug manufacturers have also faced faced lawsuits and even criminal penalties over how their marketing of these drugs and their possible side effects. If you're concerned about how you've been affected by these kinds of drugs, you should know both their legal history and what you'd have to prove to succeed with a product liability claim.

Lawsuits Over the Prescription and Marketing of Antipsychotic Drugs

Atypical antipsychotics are a family of drugs that treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental health disorders. Many companies manufacture these drugs, including:

  • Aripiprazole (marketed as Abilify)
  • Ziprasidone (marketed as Geodon)
  • Risperidone (marketed as Risperdal)
  • Quetiapine (marketed as Seroquel)
  • Olanzapine (marketed as Zyprexa), and
  • Olanzapine and Fluoxetine in combination (marketed as Symbyax).

Over the years, these drugs have been the subject both of government investigations and civil lawsuits.

Criminal and Civil Cases Brought by the Government

The federal government and state attorneys general sought civil and criminal penalties against drug companies over how they marketed their antipsychotics.

For example, in the 2000s Eli Lily faced lawsuits and criminal charges over Zyprexa. The federal government accused the company of marketing Zyprexa as a treatment for conditions like depression and sleep disorders. These uses of the drug hadn't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In 2009, Eli Lilly agreed to pay more than $1.4 billion to resolve civil and criminal cases. These financial penalties included a $515 million criminal fine and hundreds of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits filed by the federal government and the states.

Other companies have faced similar investigations and have also paid significant fines. For example:

Product Liability Lawsuits Over Antipsychotic Drugs

In addition to legal action by the government, there have been numerous product liability claims against the manufacturers of antipsychotic drugs. In a product liability lawsuit, the plaintiff seeks compensation from a company for injuries caused by its product. In a product liability case over a pharmaceutical drug, plaintiffs will often argue that they were harmed by a drug either because:

  • it causes unreasonably dangerous side effects, or
  • the manufacturer (or another responsible party) did not provide sufficient warnings or instructions regarding the use of the drug.

Johnson & Johnson, for example, has paid settlements and been found liable for damages in cases alleging that it failed to warn people about the side effects of Risperdal.

Reported Side Effects of Atypical Antipsychotic Drugs

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

  • 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.

Other side effects are possible depending on the specific atypical antipsychotic drug.

Evaluating a Potential Claim

If you have been injured by an atypical antipsychotic drug you took, you will have to prove that you suffered an injury caused by a side effect of the drug. You'll also have to prove either that:

  • the side effect was unreasonably dangerous, or
  • you suffered the side effect because you were not properly warned or instructed about how to use the drug.

Proving You Were Harmed by the Drug

Proving a defective product liability claim can be complicated and difficult, especially when the product is a prescription drug. These companies have extensive resources and are represented by experienced attorneys. And proving that the health problems you suffered were caused by the company's drug can require extensive scientific evidence and expert testimony.

In addition, you'll have to provide information about yourself and your medical history to the company's attorneys. In particular, they will be looking for evidence that you were aware of the potential risks posed by the drug and chose to take it anyway. Many drugs are known to carry serious risks. If you were properly advised of those risks (either by a warning label or by your doctor) you probably won't have a successful lawsuit even if you suffer significant side effects.

Class Action Lawsuits and Multidistrict Litigation

If you've suffered serious side effects from a widely prescribed drug, it's possible that many others have had a similar experience. In such cases, it's possible either that there is an ongoing class action lawsuit, or that one could be certified in the future. It's important to know about any actual or potential class action lawsuits involving the drug you took, and to decide whether it makes sense to join the class. In some cases, the only way for someone to receive compensation for their injuries is to be a part of the class.

It's also possible that, if you file a separate lawsuit, it will be consolidated into so-called multidistrict litigation (MDL). Unlike with a class action, you'll still have your own lawsuit in MDL. But one judge will make decisions affecting both your lawsuit and the many others making similar claims about the same drug.

The Deadline for Filing a Lawsuit Over Antipsychotic Drugs

Every state has laws called "statutes of limitations" that set deadlines for filing lawsuits. It's important to know how the deadlines in your state apply to your lawsuit, because your case will almost certainly be dismissed if you try to file it too late. If you're considering a lawsuit over drug side effects you should also understand how the statute of limitations works in a defective product liability case.

The clock starts running on the personal injury statute of limitations when you know--or should have known--that you suffered in injury. In most personal injury cases a victim is injured and becomes aware of the injury at the same time. But in a prescription drug case a side effect might only appear after someone has been taking medication for a long time. They may even have stopped taking the drug before their injury becomes apparent. It wouldn't be fair to let the statute of limitations expire before someone has a reason to know they've been hurt.

But it's still a good idea for many reasons to move quickly if you're considering filing a lawsuit. A company will always be looking for evidence that you knew early on about the effects of the drug, but decided for whatever reason not to file a lawsuit before the deadline expired.

Speaking With an Attorney About Your Case

As we discussed above, a lawsuit over antipsychotic drug side effects is likely to be complicated and to require significant expertise. If you're considering this kind of case, it will be helpful to consult with a personal injury attorney. An attorney with experience in product liability cases--and drug cases in particular--will be able to evaluate the strength of your claim and help you decide if legal action is your best option. And, if you do proceed with a claim, a lawyer will be able to represent your interests both in court and in negotiations with the company's attorneys.

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Get Professional Help

Talk to a Product Liability attorney.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you