Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and the Courts

November 10, 2011

Recently, I watched a documentary on Netflix called “The Medicated Child”. It was a Frontline exposé on the over-medication of children for conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). According to the program, ADHD is one of many mental illnesses whose levels have steadily increased in children since the late ’90s.
The program focused on two of the more common drugs used to treat ADHD —  Ritalin and Adderall. Although many parents and doctors interviewed maintained that these drugs make it much easier to deal with children with ADHD, they all agreed that very unpleasant side effects, such as sleeplessness, anxiety and loss of appetite, can be presented.

This rise in prescriptions also means an increase in litigation surrounding this issue. For example, several failure to warn cases have been instituted against Ciba-Geigy, the maker of Ritalin. In one of these cases, a child’s parents sued because they claimed that the manufacturer of the drug and the child’s physician failed to warn them that Ritalin could cause Tourette’s Syndrome. The court ruled that Ritalin was an “unavoidably unsafe product”, but the defendants would only be held to a negligence standard rather than a strict liability standard and found for the defendants Witherspoon v. Ciba-Geigy, 1986 WL 2138.

Another case against Ciba-Geigy was a class action lawsuit claiming that the manufacturer failed to warn of certain side effects of Ritalin. Because the plaintiffs were not able to show that their children experienced any of these side effects, the case was dismissed for failure to state a claim Hernandez v. Ciba-Geigy 200 F.R.D. 285.

In addition to the product liability cases, ADHD medications have also come up in cases involving educational matters. These types of claims are usually based on section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). One of the earlier cases, Valerie J. v. Derry Cooperative School District, 771 F.Supp. 483, involved an instance where a 12 year old boy’s parents did not agree with the school’s requirement that their son take Ritalin before being given a specialized educational plan called an “Individual Educational Plan” or IEP. The parents prevailed because the court ruled that a child could not be forced to take medication without parental consent.

To get a better idea of the legal trends surrounding this topic, look at the following searches:


Content: All State & Federal

Search: ritalin or adderall and hyperactivity and children or adolescents





Database: ALLCASES

Search – RITALIN ADDERALL /100 A.D.H.D. “ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER” /150 CHILD MINOR YOUTH INFANT ADOLESCENT TODDLER % ti(commonwealth people u.s. “united states”) sy,di(child-custody divorce)


 Database: TP-ALL

Search: RITALIN ADDERALL /100 A.D.H.D. “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” /150 CHILD MINOR YOUTH INFANT ADOLESCENT TODDLER