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The Syracuse Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY)
November 4, 2000
Author: John O’Brien Staff writer
The family of a Skaneateles lawyer who killed his wife, then himself two years ago is suing his psychiatrist and the maker of Prozac for $150 million, claiming the antidepressant made him homicidal and suicidal.
Dennis Luciano sued Eli Lilly and Co. and Dr. Vincent Lamparella this week in state Supreme Court over the death of Luciano’s sister-in-law, Susan Ciabotti, and her husband, Victor.
Luciano, who is suing on behalf of the Ciabottis’ three children, claims Victor Ciabotti suffered violent side effects of Prozac that Lilly officials were aware of through at least 200 lawsuits over similar cases across the country since the drug was introduced in 1988.
Victor Ciabotti, 58, was taking Prozac and other prescription drugs after he suffered five herniated discs in his back and became depressed in 1998, according to the lawsuit. He stabbed Susan Ciabotti, 48, several times before strangling her Nov. 4, 1998, at their home above Skaneateles Lake. He then hanged himself with a rope in the garage, state police said.
Ciabotti, considered an expert in high-profile property tax cases, had no history of violence, the lawsuit said.
“Anybody who knew Victor knows he was not capable of this,” said lawyer John Cherundolo, who is representing the family in the lawsuit. “It is our belief that Prozac alone caused him to do this.”
Lamparella had treated Victor Ciabotti at least eight times in the five weeks leading up to the deaths, the lawsuit said. Lamparella should have warned Ciabotti about how Prozac’s boosting of serotonin levels in the brain can be dangerous to depressed patients, Cherundolo said.
Lamparella did not respond to a request for an interview. A Lilly spokesman at the company’s headquarters in Indianapolis, Ind., said Prozac should not be blamed for the deaths.
“While the deaths of Victor and Susan Ciabotti were tragic, and we extend our sympathy to the Ciabotti family, Prozac did not cause Victor Ciabotti to kill his wife and then commit suicide,” Lilly spokesman Blair Austin said. “There’s no scientific evidence that establishes a link between Prozac and violent or suicidal behavior.”
The lawsuit claims Lilly officials caused the Ciabottis’ deaths through negligence in failing to determine why Prozac caused some patients to become “uncontrollable, angry, hostile and violent.”
Prozac has been blamed in other lawsuits for violent acts committed by its users, but few of those cases have gone to trial. In April, the Indianapolis Star reported that Lilly paid more than $50 million to quietly settle more than 30 similar lawsuits.
Only two cases have reached jury verdict. Lilly was acquitted of any wrongdoing in one of them. In the other, a jury reached the same conclusion, but that case was tainted because the plaintiff’s lawyer had secretly settled the case in midtrial – without even the judge knowing about it – and continued on without presenting key evidence so Lilly could claim victory with a verdict, Cherundolo said.
Once word leaked out about the secret settlement in that case, the judge ordered a hearing to determine whether the outcome should be listed as a jury verdict or a settlement. But before the hearing could be held, Lilly agreed to let the official listing be a settlement.
The lawsuit filed in Syracuse accuses Lilly of rigging previous lawsuits “so that the true nature of the claims against Eli Lilly and Co. were confused, obstructed and/or otherwise hidden from the public.”
Lilly started marketing Prozac in 1988, and within two years it became the most prescribed antidepressant in history. By 1998, the drug had been prescribed for 30 million patients and was the world’s largest-selling antidepressant.