Nabil Gazal should have lived a long and happy life. He had accrued a small fortune from Gazcorp, a successful Australian industrial and retail development corporation, so money was never going to be a problem.
But the wheel of fortune turned in 2002 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Gazal traveled to Houston, Texas to receive treatment at the Baylor College of Medicine’s Parkinson’s Disease Center.
There, doctors prescribed Mirapex to reduce his symptoms. The drug is made by a Connecticut firm, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, and is also commonly prescribed to treat restless leg syndrome.
The problem with Mirapex is that it has numerous side effects, including anxiety attacks, depression, insomnia, aggression, and claustrophobia. The drug also had another side effect which was unknown at the time Gazal began taking it in 2002.
Gazal liked to gamble as a pastime. Shortly after beginning treatment, Gazal began to gamble much more than he had previously. This wouldn’t have been so bad if he had been a capable gambler who knew when to fold ’em, but he wasn’t and his losses increased ten-fold.
But perhaps a lack of skill wasn’t the real problem.
In February 2005, Gazal first noted to others his increased gambling. In April 2005, he reported his concerns to his doctor.
Early suspicions began to take a concrete form when the Mayo Clinic in July 2005 published a study suggesting a link between Mirapex and compulsive gambling. Later, in November 2005, one of Gaza’s doctors raised the issue that Mirapex might be responsible for his gambling problems.
With this new awareness, Gazal wrote to two casinos in Australia in May 2006, requesting that they refuse his business. He asked the same of his gambling buddies.
Gazal couldn’t control himself, however. When he saw his doctors at Baylor in September 2007, he reported that he had lost millions of dollars.
The first large-scale study of Mirapex and impulse-control disorders was published in June 2008. The Dominion Study concluded that patients taking Mirapex had a risk of developing a gambling disorder.
In May 2009 — with the Dominions Study in hand — Gazal filed a product liability suit in Texas state court against Boehringer Ingelheim. Also named in the suit were Pfizer, Pharmacia Corp. and Pharmacia & Upjohn, companies which helped research and distribute Mirapex.
The gist of Gazal’s lawsuit was that the pharmaceutical companies failed to warn him that taking Mirapex could lead to compulsive gambling. According to Gazal, he suffered $20 million in damages.
Gazal’s action was one of hundreds of similar suits filed across country, so after being removed to federal court it was transferred to Minnesota as part of the Mirapex Products Liability Multidistrict Litigation.
Gazal died in 2010, so the lawsuit fell into the lap of his widow as representative of his estate. This didn’t matter because the district court concluded that the claim was time-barred under Texas’ two-year statute of limitation.
Yesterday, the 8th Circuit affirmed the dismissal, rejecting the argument of Gazal’s widow that the action did not accrue until June 2008 when the Dominion Study established a Mirapex-gambling link.
In Thursday’s decision, the 8th Circuit decided that, under Texas law, an “objective verification of causation, in the form of an epidemiological study … is not a predicate that must be established for a claim to accrue.”
Instead, the court concluded that Gazal first had notice of his claim four years before he filed.
“[W]e conclude that Gazal was on notice of his injury and of its causal connection to his Mirapex prescription no later than 2005. He had access to information about the cause of his increased gambling, including his own observations and insight gleaned from talking with his doctors. …
“His actions also reflect an awareness of the underlying cause behind his compulsive behaviors. In 2005, he reported his compulsive gambling to a doctor and linked it to Mirapex. Later that year, he was hospitalized while attempting to cease his use of Mirapex,” the court said. (Gazal v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals)
— Pat Murphy