Attorneys for a Hurricane woman who shot and killed her mother while under the influence of the sleeping pill Halcion are suing the makers of the drug for $21 million, claiming the company should have known the drug had intoxicating side effects that could lead to violent behavior.
Attorneys for Ilo Marie Grundberg filed the suit in U.S. District Court for Utah Friday. The suit says the drug's makers, the Upjohn Co., either knew or should have known that the drug caused a serious state of intoxication like the one Grundberg suffered when she fired eight shots from a .22-caliber pistol into the head and neck of her 82-year-old mother on June 19, 1988.Upjohn refused to comment on the suit. "As a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation," a spokesman for the company said.
The suit is receiving national attention because the drug is so widely used. Halcion is marketed in 70 countries. More than 9 million prescriptions for the drug are written annually in the United States.
Gross sales from the drug are estimated at $265 million for 1988.
Grundberg had been taking the drug for 13 months at the time she killed her mother, Mildred Lucille Coats. Grundberg's doctor had increased Grundberg's dose of the drug a few weeks prior to the murder. Grundberg killed her sleeping mother in their trailer home in Hurricane moments after slipping a birthday card into her hand. Coats would have turned 83 the following day.
The suit says Halcion's side effects include severe depression, hallucinations, psychosis, organic brain damage, bizarre and profoundly disturbed behavior, suicide, homicide, aggressive assaultive behavior, amnesia, visual disturbances, paranoia and panic.
Some of those side effects are currently acknowledged by Upjohn in an insert that accompanies the drug.
The suit seeks a trial by jury for the case.
The drug has been used as a defense in several assaults in the United States in recent years, but this is the first lawsuit against the company over Halcion, said C. Neal Pope, Grundberg's civil attorney.
Second-degree murder charges against Grundberg were dropped in February at the prosecution's request when it became apparent Grundberg was suffering from Halcion's side effects at the time of the murder.
At the time of the murder, Grundberg was taking .5 milligrams of Halcion, twice the dosage recommended by the company in the Physician's Desk Reference.
"In our view, from all that we've seen, the doctor acted responsibly in recommending the dosage that was prescribed," said Pope. Upjohn did not give the doctor enough information to alert him to the dangers of a high dosage, Pope said.
At the time of the murder, Upjohn was manufacturing a .5-milligram pill. The .5-milligram pill has since been taken off the market. A .25-milligram pill is the strongest Halcion currently available.
The suit says Upjohn Co. concealed the known hazards of Halcion in its reports to the Food and Drug Administration. It also claims Upjohn concealed the hazards in the labeling of the product, advertising of the product, product inserts and literature circulated to hospitals and physicians.
The suit claims the very sale and marketing of the drug constitute "gross negligence and/or willful and wanton disregard for the safety and welfare of the public."
It also accuses the company of continuing to market Halcion in the face of increasing evidence of unacceptable risks associated with the drug.
Here is the breakdown of the damages sought in Ilo Marie Grundberg's $21 million suit against Upjohn Co.:
-$6 million would go to Grundberg: $1 million as compensation for the pain she suffered and at least $5 million in punitive damages.
-$15 million would go to Grundberg's daughter, Janice Gray. Gray represents Mildred Lucille Coats and her estate, hence she should receive the largest amount, said Grundberg's attorney, C. Neal Pope. "It seems to me that she is the one who pays the biggest price in this thing."
-Of that $15 million, $5 million will compensate Gray for her losses, including the cost of burying Coats, the suit said. The additional $10 million is punitive damages.
-While Pope has not specified how much of the $21 million he and his colleagues will receive, U.S. attorneys commonly take one-third of an award as compensation for prosecuting the case.