Los Angeles

Lawsuit Claims Jailers Were Negligent When Inmate Gouged His Eyes Out While on Medication

What to Know

  • Michael Shabsis claims anti-smoking medication factored in a psychotic breakdown that led him to gouge his eyes out while jailed in 2014.
  • Shabsis believes the breakdown occurred due to Chantix.
  • Pain in Shabsis' eyes became unbearable to the point Shabsis gouged his own eyes out.

A judge ruled Los Angeles County will remain a defendant in a lawsuit brought by a man who claims an anti-smoking medication was a factor in a psychotic breakdown that led him to gouge his eyes out while jailed in 2014.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel Murphy heard arguments Nov. 9 on the county's motion to dismiss plaintiff Michael Shabsis' allegations, then said he wanted to read one more brief submitted on the entity's behalf. He issued his ruling Nov. 13, saying a jury should decide whether deputies knew or should have known that Shabis was in need of medical care after suffering a hip injury before gouging out his eyes.

Shabsis filed his lawsuit in December 2014, alleging that his breakdown occurred “in part or in whole” because he was taking Chantix.

Named as defendants along with Los Angeles County were former then-Sheriff Lee Baca, Chantix manufacturer Pfizer Inc., the University of California Board of Regents, Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA and Dr. Philip Cogen, who worked at Resnick Hospital and allegedly prescribed Chantix to Shabsis.

Murphy previously dismissed Baca as a defendant, saying his presence in the case was “redundant” because Shabsis also is suing Los Angeles County.

The judge also dismissed Shabsis' claims against the UC Board of Regents. The regents are seeking more than $400,000 in attorneys' fees, alleging that the claims against that entity were not brought in good faith.

Shabsis' lawyers maintain deputies in the Twin Towers jail were negligent in not getting their client immediate medical care after he suffered a hip injury, saying his pleas for help were ignored. Shabsis' attorneys further contend that if Shabsis has been assisted with his hip injury right away, he could have been prevented from mutilating himself later. They also allege his civil rights were violated.

Lawyers for the county maintain there is no evidence when Shabsis suffered a hip injury or that his civil rights were infringed upon. Although the judge denied the county's bid to dismiss the negligence claim, he did toss the civil rights violation allegation.

Shabsis says he began using Chantix in September 2013 to break a smoking habit, with a prescription provided by Cogen. Four months later, he says he suffered a psychotic breakdown that led to him to be violent toward his grandfather.

Shabsis was arrested and taken to the Twin Towers jail, where he was put in isolation despite being “in the midst of a severe manic episode,” according to his court papers. He says he became “delirious and delusional” while by himself in a cell.

The pain became so intense and the glare of the lights so disturbing that in early January 2014 Shabsis used “his own hands and fingers to gouge out both his eyes as he believed he was in hell,” according to his lawsuit.

According to Pfizer's lawyers' court papers, since 2009 the FDA-approved Chantix has included a box label warning of possible “serious neuropsychiatric events” that include “worsening pre-existing psychiatric illness and attempted suicide.” The label further warns that the risks of Chantix “should be weighed against the benefits of its use.”

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