LIBERTY, Mo. – A Clay County Circuit Court jury was about to award $26.2 million to the plaintiffs in a Rezulin trial when the parties settled for an undisclosed amount Dec. 27 (Shirley Griggs, et al. v. Warner-Lambert Company, No. CV100 3957 CC, Mo. Cir., Clay Co.; See December 2001, Page 6).
Jury foreman Clark Lamoreux of Kansas City, Mo., said the jury had, by a 9-3 vote, decided on awards of $3.2 million in compensatory damages and $23 million in punitive damages when Judge James Welsh told them the parties had settled.
Lamoreux said the verdict was based on “smoking-gun” internal Warner-Lambert Co. documents that demonstrated “blatant disregard for public safety.” He said the documents included high-level internal documents “that stated that this is a profit-driven company and they’ve got to do whatever they can to get Rezulin approved.” Other documents, he said, showed how the company “deliberately misled the FDA and doctors.”
He said the focus of the jury’s verdict was not Rezulin itself, which could have been a useful drug had its risks been fully disclosed.
“The problem was, Warner-Lambert was not forthright in communicating the risks,” he said.
Shirley Griggs, 67, of Edgerton, Mo., was a bank teller for 30 years. After she and her husband, Jerry, 69, retired in 1994, they bought a camper to travel the United States, according to her attorneys. She had some “fatty liver” and mild Type 2 diabetes but was otherwise in good health when she began taking Rezulin in June 1998. In fall 1998, she began to have symptoms of fatigue and nausea, but her liver tests were paradoxically the lowest they had ever been, according to her attorneys. In January 1999, she was diagnosed with liver failure and put on a transplant list. The plaintiffs said they put on evidence that Rezulin had been proved in a Warner Lambert study to mask elevated liver enzymes, especially in people with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, which the defense argued caused Griggs’ liver injury.
Former FDA Official Testifies
The plaintiffs had used extensive testimony from former FDA medical officer John Gueriguian, M.D. Gueriguian was key to the plaintiffs’ contention that Warner-Lambert and the FDA knew of Rezulin’s dangers early on and that the company manipulated the FDA into approval. Gueriguian had prepared a draft report in fall 1996, arguing against approval because of dangers to the liver and heart, according to the plaintiffs’ complaint.
After Warner-Lambert complained of Gueriguian’s behavior, his superiors at the FDA removed him from further consideration of Rezulin and did not show his draft report to the FDA committee evaluating Rezulin. Instead, Griggs’ attorneys have argued, Gueriguian’s superiors provided Warner-Lambert with a computerized copy of his report with the understanding that the company would edit it and remove portions it didn’t like. Within three months of Gueriguian’s removal, the FDA approved Rezulin as the first “fast-track” drug.
The plaintiffs are represented by Zoe Little-page and Rainey Booth of Littlepage Booth in Houston and Pensacola, Fla., Chetna Gosain and Joshua Brockman of Littlepage & Associates in Houston and G. Spencer Miller and James P. Deffet of The Law Offices of G. Spencer Miller in Gladstone, Mo. Warner-Lambert is represented by Charles P. Goodell Jr. and Richard M. Barnes of Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann in Baltimore and Harvey L. Kaplan, Scott W. Sayler and Steven M. Thom-as of Shook, Hardy & Bacon in Kansas City, Mo.
By Jef Feeley
Damages against Pfizer’s Warner-Lambert unit were awarded in Tulsa to the family of a man who took Rezulin for a month.
Pfizer Inc.’s Warner-Lambert Co. unit must pay $11.55 million in damages to the family of a man who died after taking its Rezulin diabetes drug for about a month, an Oklahoma jury ruled yesterday.
Jurors in state court in Tulsa decided that Rezulin was responsible for Michael Wakefield’s death. The salesman, 41, died of liver failure in 1999 after taking the drug for five weeks.
After awarding Wakefield’s family $1.55 million in compensatory damages, the jury voted to order Pfizer to pay $10 million in punitive damages over Warner-Lambert’s handling of Rezulin.
“The award reflects the jury’s feelings toward this type of conduct by drug companies,” said Zoe Littlepage, a Houston lawyer who represents Wakefield’s family.
Pfizer officials refused to comment on the punitive-damage award except to say they would appeal both awards.
The case is among thousands of suits filed on behalf of former Rezulin users who say company officials hid the drug’s health risks to pump up sales. The drug was pulled from the U.S. market in March 2000 after being linked to at least 63 liver-related deaths.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys and drug-industry analysts are trying to gauge whether Pfizer may face liability problems similar to those that the American Home Products Corp. battled over its fen-phen diet combination.
American Home, which changed its name to Wyeth this month, has set aside $13.2 billion to settle lawsuits over the diet drugs, after failing to win any of the cases brought before juries since the combination was pulled off the market in 1997.
More than 200,000 former fen-phen users, who said the combination damaged their hearts, have resolved claims as part of American Home’s $3.75 billion nation settlement.
Pfizer currently faces lawsuits on behalf of nearly 5,000 former Rezulin users in state and federal courts, according to a November filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In the Tulsa case, Wakefield’s attorneys argued that Warner-Lambert officials knew that more than 500 Rezulin users around the world had suffered liver damage while it was assuring the Food and Drug Administration the drug was safe.
Pfizer’s attorneys countered that Rezulin did not cause Wakefield’s death and that the FDA repeatedly found that diabetics could safely use the drug.
The Birmingham News
March 26, 2002
A Jefferson County jury has awarded $5 million in punitive damages to a Florida woman for the wrongful death of her husband, and against two Birmingham physicians and the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation.
Deborah Holland, of Crestview, Fla., claimed in her 1998 lawsuit that her husband, Robert T. Holland Jr., entered the hospital for a kidney transplant in September 1996. During the operation, a surgeon gave him the antibiotic Chloramphenicol and as a result, the 37-year-old Holland developed a rare bone marrow disorder and died, according to court papers. The plaintiff’s lawyers argued that the drug was used improperly.
Named in the suit were doctors Arnold G. Diethelm and Stephen Zeigler, and the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, which is the outpatient practice group for all faculty members at the University of Alabama School of Medicine.
During the trial last week, plaintiff lawyers Brent Bradley and John Booth, of Florida, claimed that Zeigler was the attending surgeon who administered the drug according to a protocol developed by Diethelm.
The jury returned a verdict Thursday before Circuit Judge Dan Rogers Jr.
It was unclear whether there will be an appeal. Defense lawyer Robert Williams said the defendants were disappointed in the verdict and will examine the transcript and record to see what decisions need to be made.
This was the second time the case has been tried, according to court records. The case ended in a mistrial last June after a jury was unable to issue an unanimous verdict.
“This has been a long hard battle for them and we hope that they now have some closure,” Booth said of Mrs. Holland and her family.
A Pensacola teen-ager who said she received unnecessary gynecologic surgery that led to complications was awarded $750,000 by a jury Friday.
The Escambia Circuit Court jury found Dr. Lornetta Epps, a gynecologist, negligent in her care of Amber Nail, who was 14 at the time of the 1993 surgery. The same five-woman, one-man panel exonerated Dr. James Boyd, a surgeon who repaired a complication.
Pensacola lawyers Bill Rankin and Marcus Michles, who represented Nail, successfully argued that Epps never should have performed the laparoscopy, a scope-type procedure.
Boyd was called in during the procedure to repair a vein that Epps punctured.
He was added to the suit after Nail alleged he failed to inspect her bowel in which another puncture was subsequently discovered.
However, Frank Bozeman, Boyd’s lawyer, successfully argued that Epps had packed the bowel out of sight before Boyd entered the operation, and it was her responsibility to check it for injuries or ask him to.
Dr. Peter Courcy repaired the bowel injury a week later. Four more surgical procedures subsequently were required.
The News Herald
Panama City Florida
Catherine McNaught The News Herald
Six Bay County jurors awarded almost half a million dollars Thursday to a local woman who said she lost the use of her right eye after cataract surgery.
Frances Jones Smith, 68, sued Panama City ophthalmologist Norman I. Meyer, M.D., in January 1995 after she said routine eye surgery left her blind in one eye.
The lawsuit, filed in Bay County Circuit Court, alleged that Meyer “was negligent in his care of (Smith), in that he undertook to perform a cataract operation and thereafter severely damaged her retina causing her to become blind in her right eye.”
“This guy removed a piece of her retina instead of removing the cataract,” said Smith’s attorney, Marcus Michles of Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin & McLeod. Michles said Thursday afternoon that all but $60,000 of the $480,000 verdict was for his client’s pain and suffering.
“The jury did an outstanding job of enduring a lot of medical testimony and did a good job of fairly evaluating the impact that this has had on this lady’s life,” Michles said.
Meyer said Thursday evening that the resolution of the lawsuit was “amicable,” though he would have preferred not going to trial.
“Why put her through all that?,” Meyer said. “It was not my decision: “It was purely the decision of the insurance company. I did not testify all week.” Meyer said that he and Smith remained on good terms, and that he doesn’t believe his Jacksonville-based insurance company will appeal the verdict.
Smith could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Michles said she was satisfied with the outcome.
Michles said Smith, a retired nurse, rejected a $200,000 settlement offer because she felt it undervalued her loss.
These people just said, ‘You’re retired and we blinded you, but you’ve got another (eye) though,” Michles said. “We just felt that it was important for it to go to a jury and that the jury ought to decide what the value of a woman’s eyesight was.”
The jury awarded Smith $60,000 for past and future medical expenses she will incur. Michles said she still must undergo surgery to have the damaged eye removed. “She’s going to have her eyeball removed and have a glass eye put in for the rest of her life,” Michles said.
By CASEY LOGAN
A jury awarded a Mossy Head man $160,000 in damages Thursday after finding a White-Wilson Medical Center surgeon negligent in his duties.
A 6.5-cm metal irrigation needle was left in John Clark’s neck by Dr. David Burkland when he performed emergency surgery on the man in June 1994 at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center.
“I just don’t know what to say,” the 64-year-old Clark said outside the courtroom after the verdict was read.
Burkland contended that it was circulating nurse Mary Brown’s job to account for all of the medical supplies at the conclusion of the surgical procedure. But the jury didn’t agree. They found that Brown was not negligent.
Burkland had no comment about the outcome of the case.
The operation, called a carotid endarterectomy, is a surgical procedure in which plaque deposits and the inner lining of a blood vessel are removed from the neck. The desired result is better blood circulation.
Clark complained of constant pain in his neck from the conclusion of the surgery until the irrigation needle was removed about an inch from the surface of his neck almost two years after it was inserted there.
Clark also suffered from a medicine bag of ailments, including nosebleeds, headaches and bizarre rashes.
Lawyer Marcus Michles referred to Clark’s pain and suffering as a “wound of an ordeal.”
Clark said that Burkland ignored him and treated him like a child even after X-rays taken at a Veteran’s Administration hospital in Biloxi, Miss. indicated a foreign object was lodged in his neck.
An Okaloosa County man was recently awarded a $320,219 verdict after he sued an. insurance company following an injury he blamed on a traffic accident.
An Okaloosa Circuit Court jury found in favor of Michael L. Phillips, a self-employed partner in a local heating and cooling firm, after his underinsured motorist claim against his State Farm policy was denied.
Phillips, said spokesmen for the Pensacola-based law firm Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin & McLeod, was injured in a June 10, 1997, car accident and suffered a herniated disk in his lower back as a result.
The jury’s June 14 verdict, they said, came despite testimony from a State Farm witness, a doctor who told jurors that it was “impossible to have sustained a herniated disk in the low back from a car accident if you had your seatbelt fastened.”
Phillips was represented by Marcus J. Michles III of the Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin & McLeod firm.
The News Herald
Panama City Florida
One of the largest personal-injury awards in Bay County history was decided Thursday for an elderly man who said an unlicensed, under-aged car wash employee backed into his bicycle three years ago.
A jury awarded $330,000 to Steve Shimak, 76, and another $130,000 to his wife Irene. Irene Shimak, 74, received damages for the loss of her husband’s “comfort, support and services,” according to one of their attorneys, Marcus Michles of Kerrigan Estess Rankin & McLeod. Randy Thompson was co-counsel.
“The case was a negligence claim for injuries to Mr. Shimak, who is a fantastic, charming, 73-year-old man (at the time) who was riding his bike on the sidewalk in front of Beach Car Wash on Front Beach Road,” Michles said. “And he was backed into by an employee of the car wash who was driving a customer’s truck.”
It was not known whether the defendant would appeal the verdict. Beach Car Wash & Detail Shop owner Raymond Herring said he was advised by his attorney not to comment, “at this time. We would just like to emphasize at this time.”
The accident occurred July 3, 1996. Michles said Shimak suffered a compression fracture to his 12th thoracic vertebrae. And he said Shimak. an active hunter and fisherman who shared that time with his son Steven and grandson Shamus, has had to use a walker ever since.
“It ultimately led to a bilateral hip replacement.” Michles said. “And it’s just a shame. Honestly, he’s like a little leprechaun. “He’s just this wonderful, always laughing, wonderful man. I would say I have never represented a more deserving couple.”
Shimak is retired from the U.S. Navy and has been in Bay County about 35 years. He could not be reached for comment Friday.
Michles said the size of the award showed two things: jurors didn’t believe the defense that Shimak “rode his bicycle into the side of this pickup truck,” and that the business was negligent in letting an unlicensed, underage person move a customer’s vehicle.
“This is the biggest that I’ve heard of in some time,” he said of the jury’s award. “I sincerely believe that this jury was intelligent and compassionate and understood what this family had been through.”