Electroconvulsive Therapy Class Action Filed


DK Law Group LLP has just filed a class action in federal court in the Central District of California against the manufacturers of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) devices on behalf of every person who has been injured by electroconvulsive therapy in California since May of 1982. Our lawsuit is based on traditional state law negligence principles, and the manufacturers’ failure to comply with their obligations to the FDA.

ECT has been around for nearly eighty years, since about 1938. Since then, the practice has become widespread, even though the psychiatric community has never conclusively established any particular mechanism of action through which ECT treats any type of mental illness.

This lawsuit is premised on the fact that the manufacturers had an obligation to perform research and clinical trials, report on the safety and effectiveness of their products, and accordingly, to educate the medical profession and the public about the safety of their devices. Marketing these devices despite a lack of professional and public knowledge about their inherent risks rendered them legally defective. To this day, there is no clinically established mechanism of action by which ECT treats mental illness.

Medical devices in the United States are fairly strictly regulated by the FDA under the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (FDCA), the Medical Device Amendments of 1976 (MDA), and the Safe Medical Devices Act of 1990 (SMDA). The Medical Device Amendments determined that medical devices would be classified into three categories based on their safety and effectiveness, with Class I devices as the least dangerous, and Class III as the most. Class III devices typically must satisfy a strict “premarket approval” or “PMA,” process, which requires that manufacturers provide a strong showing of safety and effectiveness before such devices can be placed on the market. However, when the Medical Device Amendments were passed in 1976, there were many existing devices, including ECT devices, that were allowed on the market without satisfying the premarket approval standard. Instead, they were “grandfathered in” as devices marketed before the MDA, or devices substantially similar to such pre-amendment devices. This is called the “510(k)” process, which “clears” a device for access to the market, but does not technically render it “approved” by the FDA.

Despite being cleared for access to the market, manufacturers of devices that have been “grandfathered in” still must furnish certain information to the FDA. For example, under the MDA and SMDA, such manufacturers must report to the FDA all information “reasonably known” whenever their devices may have contributed to a death or serious injury. The “reasonably known” standard is broad, and requires a manufacturer to seek out information pertaining to adverse events resulting from use of their devices, instead of passively waiting for the information to reach them.

Our lawsuit alleges that the manufacturers of ECT devices failed to meet these requirements, and as a result, placed a dangerous product on the market without an adequate warning, in violation of federal law. Moreover, the lawsuit asserts that principles of state tort law required the manufacturers to comply with their federal reporting requirements by both reporting adverse events to the FDA and refraining from the manufacture and sale of their products after failing to submit applications for FDA approval. We also assert that a remedy of damages under state law is appropriate when medical device manufacturers cause harm to patients by violating those federal reporting requirements.

The majority of the states recognize an analogous state law cause of action, but grouping too many states into one lawsuit could threaten our ability to persuade a court to grant us certification as a class action lawsuit. This is because of the “predominance” requirement in federal class actions, which requires that common questions that are appropriately resolved through class-wide treatment predominate over individual issues. Therefore, in our view, the best way to proceed is to enlist the help of firms from other states in bringing numerous statewide class actions, or “mass torts” (groups of individual actions).

State and federal courts will inevitably vary in their willingness to certify class actions such as this. For example, here in California, while we hope to be granted class certification right off the bat in the lower federal district court, we are planning for the very real possibility of being denied class certification, and subsequent review of that denial by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Success in each case depends upon the state product liability law and the federal class action law in which the action is brought. There are no guarantees in this business, but we think the current federal laws in the Ninth Circuit, as well as the state laws of most of the states, potentially allow for class actions in these circumstances.

The FDA’s medical device regulations are designed to ensure that the devices used on patients are thoroughly studied and entirely safe. We hope that this lawsuit will serve as an impetus for manufacturers of ECT and other medical devices to take more seriously the FDA’s information reporting requirements, in order to ensure the safety and trust of consumers and patients throughout the nation.

If you or someone you know has been harmed by ECT at a medical or psychiatric facility, please contact our firm so that you can participate in this action. The California portion will be the first to proceed, but we are in contact with firms from other states that are willing to help file separate lawsuits based on the same legal theories shortly thereafter. You can reach us by phone at (805) 498-1212 or email us at [email protected]. In addition, to expedite your participation in this lawsuit, ectjustice.com has posted an ECT questionnaire through which you can recount and communicate to us your ECT experience.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. When the pro electroshock people write their scientific papers they leave out the dead and injured, the dead and injuries that may have come from the electroshock treatment.

    “…eight people were deceased, 11 refused to take part, six could not be traced and five could not take part due to significant cognitive impairment.”
    8+11+6+5= 30 out of 60 removed.http://www.progressnp.com/article/patients-experiences-attitudes-towards-ect/

    149 total eligible patients, and missing 80 people, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3336851/

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  2. Good news indeed if you could have a precedent setting case won in California to be followed by many other suits in other states. Of course, I’m dreaming here, but it’s a good dream.

    Shock treatment injures brains, for starters, and so I hope your legal action is successful.

    Thank you for reporting on this matter, and thanks go to your firm for taking it on.

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  3. I want to thank survivor activists like Mary Maddock and her partner Jim Maddock, co-founders of Mindfreedom Ireland for speaking out loudly against ETC for decades, survivor activist Ted Chabasinski for leading a successful campaign against ETC in 1982 in Berkeley, California, Celia Brown and David Oaks of Mindfreedom International for leading an international campaign against ETC for decades, and newer survivor activists like Deborah Schwartskoff, founder ETC Justice for her grassroots organizing efforts, including organizing a picket protest in front of Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Oregon several years ago in partnership with Rethinking Psychiatry. It is hard to identify and thank every ETC activist, I’m sure there are many more but those are the names that stand out for me. For paradigms to shift, grassroots activism and direct action always have an important “first responder” role. Litigation will provide an important forum to debate the science of ETC but the key component of any successful campaign is always survivors refusing to remain silent, sharing their stories, and taking action

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  4. The “science” of shock? It is the science of electrical trauma and neurological damage reframed by the ignorant and deluded sadists promoting and administering ECT. When MRI’s show decreased cortical connectivity in the frontal lobes it is spun as a “good thing- there was too much connectivity in depression”, not as a sign of serious injury. Claims of new cell growth or neurogenesis are spun as a “good thing” rather than the usual response of the brain to traumatic injury.
    There is no “science” about ECT except the science of brain injury.
    This evil, injurious, and criminal assault on living, breathing human beings has continued because of the failure of people in the medical profession to express their outrage and unite to see it erased from the face of the earth. The silence of real doctors, neurologists, and the complicit actions of anesthetists helping to paralyse
    And knock the victims unconscious are criminal. People who administer ECT belong in jail. The factories producing these instruments of torture need to be destroyed and their evil owners put in prison for abetting crimes against humanity.
    Major teaching hospitals, places like the Mayo clinic inflict this damage on patients, make big money injuring people. It is a business bringing in 5 billion dollars a year. A business of preying on the sick, innocent, desperate, and misinformed.

    And someone like Chucky Kellner runs the CORE studies in ECT, pronouncing favorable outcomes which are actually indicative of brain damage induced euphoria and emotional blunting. Kellner, former advisor to MECTA and Somatics. And that is considered as unbiased research? Research that conspicuously fails and consciously refuses to look for sign of harm. You cannot see what you refuse to look for.

    The Boston Globe took on the priests sex scandals with great effect. Why isn’t it writing an expose on the lives shattered, careers lost, suicides committed, all as a direct result of ECT? What the f*** is wrong with the media, pushing the stories of the seemingly demented Kitty Dukakis and deeply troubled Carrie Fisher, both suffering from agnosognosia, which made them unaware of the brain damage others could see?
    Peter Breggin has worked for 40 years trying to slay this monster and it is kept alive by people like Healy, Lisanby, Kellner, Sackheim. Sickening.

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  5. This is a good step forward, but why is the legal profession still at least 50 years behind in terms of justice? There are thousands upon thousands of psychiatric survivors who have been pleading for justice, crying out for help, and yet there is no solid legal basis by which to hold psychiatry accountable for its crimes. History books will one day tell of the atrocities of psychiatry and the retrograde practices of the legal profession with regards to survivors.

    Of course there is no clinically established mechanism of action by which ECT treats mental illness… because MENTAL ILLNESS IS A MYTH! When will the general public get it through it’s thick skull that so-called mental illness is no more real than the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy?


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    • So-called “mental illnesses” are exactly as “real” as presents from Santa Claus. They have a subjective “reality”, but no OBJECTIVE reality. Psychiatry is a pseudoscience, a drug racket, and a means of social control. It’s 21st Century Phrenology, with potent neuro-toxins. The DSM-5 is a catalog of billing codes, and little more…. All of the bogus “diseases” in it were INVENTED, – not discovered, – to serve as excuses to $ELL DRUG$….
      So-called “mental illnesses” are exactly as “real” as presents from Santa Claus, but not more real….

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  6. I hope this is successful! What few shock survivors who are able to make it to court either fail or settle out of court. Class action seems to be the only way to wake the public up and have a meaningful impact for survivors.

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  7. No scientology or CCHR behind the suit. Was initiated by a victim of ECT petitioning 200 law firms till she found one willing to accept and move forward.

    An update has stated Canadians injured by shock in the last two years should contact the website ectjustice.com to fill in a questionnaire. A Canadian firm is looking to pursue a similar action to that filed in California, but with a more limited time frame

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