January 31, 2000-Diet Drug Lawsuit Settled
American Home Products Corp. settled a wrongful-death lawsuit in Massachusetts by the parents of a woman who took the company's diet drug Pondimin for a few weeks in 1996 in order to lose weight for her wedding and died of primary pulmonary hypertension before she could be married.
The lawsuit alleged that the company didn't adequately warn of the risk of the disease associated with use of the drug, often used as part of the popular "fen-phen" diet drug cocktail.
The settlement was approved by Middlesex Superior Court Judge Raymond Brassard Jan. 27. Trial began earlier this month. The amount wasn't disclosed, but The Wall Street Journal reported that it was believed to be about $ 10 million.
A substantial portion of the settlement will go to establishing a foundation in the name of the late Mary J. Linnen aimed at helping improve treatment for the disease, American Home and the Linnen family said in a joint statement.
Primary pulmonary hypertension is a rare condition in which pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs increases, impairing the transport of oxygen to the heart and causing heart failure. Plaintiffs' attorneys have said it kills up to 50 percent of patients within five years of diagnosis.
American Home had argued that Linnen's death couldn't have been related to the drugs because she had taken them for less than a month.
American Home has settled dozens of individual suits related to fen-phen and has agreed to a $ 4.83 billion national settlement, although it hasn't received court approval.
Besides similar lawsuits elsewhere from those who took diet drugs, the company now faces a lawsuit from Interneuron Pharmaceuticals Inc., a former marketing partner that now charges American deliberately concealed two dozen reports of heart disease among users of diet pills.
Interneuron asserts it didn't hear about the cases until it was contacted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in July 1997, four months after American Home received the first of the reports.
The suit seeks treble damages for unspecified losses to Interneuron, including its legal liability, fallen market value, damaged reputation and lost business opportunities as executives were forced to focus on diet-pill litigation.
American Home sold fenfluramine under its own name Pondimin and marketed a chemical cousin, dexfenfluramine, for Interneuron under the brand name Redux. Until they were taken off the market, the drugs were commonly used in conjunction with phentermine in the cocktail known as "fen-phen."
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court refused last week to review whether a $ 20 million punitive damages award against American Home amounted to an unconstitutionally excessive fine.
In American Home Products v. Oregon, American Home had challenged the constitutionality of an Oregon statute under which half the award of punitive damages award would go to the state.
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