It can be puzzling — if not outright humorous — to observe the warnings in many pharmaceutical advertisements about how a drug’s side effects can be so severe that the potential harms outweigh the possible benefits. What’s not at all funny is when one of those side effects causes a patient actual harm.
Cory Jenkins began taking the FDA-approved drug Abilify in October, 2010 as part of ongoing treatment of his condition. One known side effect of Abilify is tardive dyskinesia, a serious neurological disorder that causes muscle twitching. Jenkins began showing symptoms of dyskinesia in late 2012 and early 2013. He visited the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans and was instructed to stop taking Abilify. Shortly thereafter the twitching ceased. By August of 2013, the symptoms returned, even though Jenkins was no longer taking Abilify. In October, 2013 Jenkins sought care from several neurologists, including one who officially diagnosed him with dyskinesia. In October, 2014 Jenkins filed a lawsuit for damages against Bristol-Myers Squibb Company and Otsuka American Pharmaceutical Inc., the makers of Abilify.
In the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana (“District Court”), Jenkins asserted two claims under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (LPLA). The District Court held that both claims had prescribed — meaning Jenkins did not file within the time required to commence an action — and granted the defendants’ motions for summary judgment. Claims brought under LPLA have a one-year prescriptive period; the period begins from the day the injury occurs or when damage is sustained. La. C.C. art. 3492. Damages are said to be “sustained” when they have revealed themselves with enough certainty to support the existence of a cause of action. In Louisiana, the start of the prescriptive period does not depend on a physician’s diagnosis. Instead, what controls is the date the injury occurred. Jenkins argued that there was a factual dispute over whether he had developed dyskinesia in April, and that it was not certain until his diagnosis in August. But because Jenkins admitted in his pleadings that his symptoms began in April, 2013, the District Court held that the prescriptive period for his claims against the defendants began running in April, 2013.