Original article no longer available
The Lohud Journal-News
By SHAWN COHEN, THE JOURNAL NEWS
Original publication: March 29, 2007
The widow of a heavily medicated man who jumped off the Tappan Zee Bridge has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the doctors and pharmaceutical companies she blames for her husband’s suicide.
Fidel Zapata, 50, of White Plains was prescribed a powerful cocktail of drugs – including an anti-depressant that warns of a possible suicide risk in children – in the weeks leading up to his February 2005 death, his widow, Frances Cabanillas, claims in the complaint filed yesterday.
“I believe if they did not give him all kinds of medications, he would still be alive today,” Cabanillas said.
She said the problems stem from a car crash he had in Greenburgh in November 2004. Zapata sought treatment after developing neck, chest and head pains, and doctors at first recommended over-the-counter painkillers. But his symptoms persisted and he began to develop new problems, including insomnia, anxiety, breathing troubles, numbness to the side of his face and sweaty hands and feet, according to legal papers.
Zapata saw various doctors – including ones at White Plains Hospital Center and the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla – who prescribed everything from the anti-inflammatory drug Naproxen to the sedative Valium. He was also given Lexapro, one of a class of anti-depressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, that have been the target of numerous lawsuits alleging they cause suicidal reactions.
But his condition actually got worse, his widow said. He started to experience blood and a grinding sound in his ear and numbness around his nose, she said. On Feb. 7, she said, doctors prescribed him Risperdol and Paxil, another SSRI that warns of a suicide risk in children.
That was three days before Zapata, while working for a carpet company in Scarsdale, stopped his cargo van at midspan on the bridge, stepped over the side railing and dropped 150 feet into the frigid waters.
Zapata’s widow, through her lawyer Ernest Arbizo, filed the lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. She is seeking $1 million for direct losses, $1 million for mental anguish and “further relief as this court deems proper and just.”
The suit targets the hospitals, along with various doctors and drug manufacturers, including GlaxoSmithKline, Forest Pharmaceuticals, Forest Laboratories, Myland Pharmaceuticals and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA.
“Obviously, some of them are probably more responsible than others, but if I left anyone off, I could miss someone,” Arbizo said. “Paxil in particular is what I’m interested in. Paxil had an integral part of what the decedent faced.”
He said the doctors share responsibility because they didn’t treat him properly, “overprescribed” the drugs and failed to coordinate with each other.
“They were just throwing things at him without really analyzing what he was taking,” Arbizo said. “That’s what caused him to commit suicide.”
The Journal News contacted several of the agencies being sued, but all refused to comment about the lawsuit.
“It’s the policy of our hospital not to comment on cases involving active litigation,” said Melissa Weisstuch, vice president of community relations at White Plains Hospital Center.
Reach Shawn Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-694-5046.