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Lilly, family fail to settle over suicide
Lawsuit considered likely after rejection of mediator's proposal

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September 17, 2004

An independent mediator proposed a settlement between Eli Lilly and Co. and the family of a woman who commited suicide. But the deal failed to get the backing of one or both sides and no longer is being considered.

There now appears to be an "absolute" likelihood that Traci Johnson's parents will file a lawsuit against Lilly, said John Cordisco, the family's lead counsel, on Thursday.

The mediation efforts came to light this week in comments from attorneys for Michael and Peggy Johnson and from a Lilly spokesman. The Johnsons' daughter, a 19-year-old Bible college student, hanged herself in Lilly's Indianapolis drug-testing clinic in February. She was testing a Lilly antidepressant that also is sold to treat urinary incontinence and diabetes-caused nerve pain.

Another attorney for the Johnsons said Lilly refused to accept the mediator's terms for a settlement that presumably included a financial payout by the drugmaker.

"We trusted a third person with a ton of experience, chosen by both sides, to tell us, 'OK, what is an equitable settlement?' He did, and they (Lilly) balked," said Houston attorney Andy Vickery.

Lilly spokesman Philip Belt wouldn't say which side rejected the mediation proposal.

"I won't characterize . . . how it ended or what Lilly's position was in that," he said.

He said both sides agreed to use a mediator "really out of concerns for the family, not out of an attempt to avoid litigation."

"We still think it would be best for everybody" to settle rather than sue, Belt said. "Any public forum in which the death of a child is discussed is likely to be very painful for the parents," he said.

Since the mediation effort fizzled about two weeks ago, "There's nothing presently ongoing relative to the attempt to settle this amicably," said Cordisco, who practices in the Philadelphia area, where the Johnsons live.

"We were hopeful the matter could be resolved amicably," Cordisco said. "The mediation did not break down from a lack of effort on the part of the plaintiff."

Vickery criticized Lilly for saying through a spokesman two weeks ago that company officials wanted an "equitable" settlement in the case, when they had just refused to accept the mediator's proposal.

"The only reason they say it . . . is as a PR ploy," Vickery said. "They want to make it seem as if the family is greedy, or more likely the (family's) lawyers."

Lilly recently launched the drug Johnson was testing, Cymbalta, on the U.S. market. It is banking on the drug capturing a large share of business and becoming a blockbuster product.

Lilly has denied that Cymbalta played a role in causing the suicide of Johnson, a healthy volunteer who was helping test the drug's safety.

Call Star reporter Jeff Swiatek at (317) 444-6483.

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