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December 18, 2001 - Drug Maker's Victory May Change Tactics

December 18, 2001 - Drug Maker's Victory May Change Tactics

Plaintiffs' attorneys may rethink their strategy after drug maker Warner-Lambert's victory in the first lawsuit to go to trial over Rezulin, a drug once prescribed to 2 million diabetics before it was ordered off the market in March 2000.

A Houston jury took less than eight hours Monday to find the drug did not cause the death of Norma Culberson, whose family had sued Warner-Lambert, a division of Pfizer, for $25 million. The jurors heard more than three weeks of testimony.

"It was a good drug. It helped a lot of people," one juror told the Houston Chronicle. "There just wasn't enough evidence to show the drug was defective."

A second juror also said there wasn't enough evidence to blame the drug. Two jurors dissented from the majority's finding.

George Fleming, the attorney for the Culberson family, said he was disappointed because he thought his side had a "good case."

The Houston case was being watched closely because it was the first Rezulin case to go to trial, although two other cases are now currently in trial in Corpus Christi, Texas; and Kansas City, Mo. Warner-Lambert is facing thousands of liver-injury lawsuits related to the drug, according to the Chronicle.

Richard Alderman, a law professor at the University of Houston, told the newspaper the Warner-Lambert victory will force plaintiffs' attorneys in other cases to rethink their strategy.

"In an absolute victory such as this, plaintiffs' attorneys really have to regroup," he said. "You may not see any cases going to trial in the immediate future as lawyers examine 'What did we do wrong here?'"

Alderman also noted that proving a drug caused an injury can be different for each plaintiff.

During the Houston trial, lawyers disputed the precise cause of death and jurors heard differing doctor's interpretations.

Culberson died Jan. 7, 2000, and the cause of death was listed as kidney failure, with liver failure as a secondary cause. She had been diagnosed with diabetes in 1989 and began taking Rezulin in 1998. She suffered from numerous other ailments at the time of her death.

The lawsuit alleged that Warner-Lambert caused the death of Culberson through misleading marketing of the drug, disregard for safety concerns or a defect in the drug.

Nearly 2 million Type 2 diabetics were using Rezulin before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered it off the market in March 2000. At that time, the drug had been linked to 90 cases of liver failure, 63 deaths and 10 liver transplants.

Diabetics used Rezulin to resensitize their bodies to insulin, a hormone that converts sugar into energy. High blood sugar can lead to kidney failure, blindness, heart disease and other dangerous conditions.

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