District Court Judge William Sanchez last week ruled in favor of the defense in a multimillion-dollar wrongful death lawsuit that could have granted the plaintiffs hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest payments.
Sanchez ruled the plaintiffs, Anthony and Cheng Silva, parents of Susan Silva, will receive 2 percent in prejudgment interest after jurors returned a $3 million verdict last month for the estate of their daughter, Susan Silva.
Susan Silva was a Los Lunas resident who committed suicide after she took the anti-depressant drug Paxil. Sanchez could have awarded up to 10 percent interest.
In September, a jury found that Lovelace Health System Inc. was negligent in adequately informing Silva of the adverse effects of the drug. Silva, 30, died in April 2006, court documents said.
Silva’s parents claimed Dr. Isabel Lopez-Colberg of Lovelace failed to warn their daughter that she could be part of a population that is vulnerable to committing suicide as a direct result of taking Paxil.
According to court documents, Lopez-Colberg prescribed Silva the drug in 2004 after she had symptoms of anxiety.
Court documents said Silva complained that the medication “sometimes made her feel “uncomfortable,” and that if she forgot to take the medication for a day or two “she would get quite ill” after she switched to a generic version of the drug.
B.J. Crow, an attorney for the plaintiffs, asked Sanchez to award his clients the full 10 percent of interest under state statute. State statute says that interest can be awarded on a claim before a judgment is made on a case. The rate of the awarded interest is at the discretion of the judge.
In this case, the plaintiffs will be awarded about $46,000 a year for three years. A ruling of 10 percent would have paid the plaintiffs almost $230,000 a year in interest payments.
Collection of interest starts from the date the complaint is served, which was in May 2008.
Crow said Lovelace should have to pay the full amount of interest since he said the company was reluctant to offer the plaintiffs a reasonable settlement. He said Lovelace offered to settle the case for $100,000.
“We could still argue that 10 percent is appropriate in this case,” Crow said. “There is a reason the Legislature says you can go up to 10 percent. That is to foster settlement. That is what exactly didn’t happen in this case.”
Defense attorney Pete Domenici Jr. said the higher rate was excessive.
“I don’t think this is meant to be a windfall with the plaintiffs,” Domenici Jr. said. “I think it’s meant to allow a judge like you to balance equitable factors and we respectfully ask that you do that.”
Sanchez called the full amount “excessive,” and said that $46,000 a year over a three-year span was a more reasonable rate.
“I decided on 2 percent,” Sanchez said in an interview. “I don’t think 40 some thousand is unreasonable.”
According to court documents, the plaintiffs were awarded $120,000 for suffering the loss of their daughter.
In August, attorneys for the Silva family declined an offer from Lovelace to settle the case and filed a counter offer of $1.8 million. That offer was declined.
10/5/11 — $3.02M Verdict in Paxil Case
By Scott Sandlin/Journal Staff Writer
A Los Lunas jury has returned a verdict of more than $3 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit brought by the family of a woman who committed suicide by slashing herself with razor blades after taking the antidepressant Paxil.
Susan Antoinette Silva, 30, of Albuquerque, killed herself in 2006 after a period of bizarre behavior when she had begun using the drug and later a generic version of it.
She was prescribed Paxil by Dr. Isabel Lopez-Colberg , who at the time was a Lovelace Health Systems doctor, in May 2004 for symptoms diagnosed as anxiety.
Attorney Jason Bowles, who represented Silva’s estate, said the physician had prescribed “a year’s worth of pills, (and) never referred her” to a specialist, and failed to monitor her.
“This girl carved deep gashes in her leg,” Bowles said. “She was calling in sick to work once every week. Even (the defense) expert said she was going psychotic for several months prior to her death.”
Lovelace spokeswoman Laurie Volkin said in a statement that “an appeal is under consideration.”
Silva was employed as a mental health technician at the University of New Mexico Hospital.
The lawsuit said she began showing signs of restless leg syndrome, and switched to the generic version of the drug. She reported that the medication made her feel uncomfortable, and that if she forgot to take it for even a day or two, she would get quite ill, the lawsuit said.
More than once, she said the medication made her feel “weird” and her family and others noted erratic behavior.
On April 11, 2006, she had a dream that she had to stab something, and she appeared distraught, incoherent and bizarre.
She decided to stay at her parents’ home, but left inexplicably at 11 p.m. saying she had to take care of her cat. On April 13, she engaged in “a self-mutilation suicide” using razor blades.
Jurors awarded $3.02 million to Silva’s estate, $100,000 each to her parents, and $20,000 each to her siblings.
The jury assigned 70 percent of the fault to the doctor and Lovelace, 25 percent to Susan Silva and 5 percent to unspecified others.
The lawsuit also targeted GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturer of Paxil, but District Judge William Sanchez dismissed the drug company before trial began last week in Los Lunas.
Bowles is appealing that ruling.
The lawsuit alleged GlaxoSmithKline withheld safety information gathered in clinical trials about Paxil before Silva’s death.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal