A federal judge has shot down an attempt by Pfizer to throw out new Fen Phen lawsuits, which continue to be filed on behalf of individuals who allegedly developed pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) after taking the drug. In most defective drug cases, state-based statutes of limitations limit the amount of time lawsuits can be brought against manufacturers of dangerous medications. However, under a latency argument which states that symptoms of PAH may not appear for years or even decades after the user takes Fen Phen, some plaintiffs have been allowed to argue that they did not discover they were injured until just recently.
What’s the problem?
September 5, 2012 – In an order issued last week, U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III determined that expert testimony claiming that the long-banned controversial diet drug Fen Phen can cause serious long-term lung damage relies on sound medical evidence, but that a jury will have to ultimately determine whether that evidence is sufficient.
During the mid-1990’s, Fen Phen was a popular weight loss drug that combined the active ingredients phentermine and fenfluramine, which was marketed as Pondimin. Fenfluramine was recalled by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in September 1997, after medical studies uncovered the drug’s ability to cause serious, potentially life-threatening heart and lung problems.
Judge Bartle’s decision came in response to a motion filed by Pfizer’s Wyeth subsidiary to throw out legal claims filed by Valerie Farmer and Jamie Cheek, two former Fen Phen users who allegedly developed pulmonary arterial hypertension after taking the drug. According to court documents, Cheek used Fen Phen for about one year ending in mid-1996, and filed her lawsuit in January 2011 after being diagnosed with PAH. Farmer reportedly used Pondimin for approximately three months in 1997, and was diagnosed with PAH last June. Pfizer lawyers argued that the cases should be thrown out due to what they considered to be a lack of solid medical evidence linking Fen Phen to PAH occurring nine or more years after last use.
Bartle is currently handling about 30 Fen Phen lawsuits in Philadelphia federal court, and there are a number of other similar claims that have been filed on the state level in Pennsylvania that Pfizer is petitioning to have dismissed. Since Fen Phen was recalled in 1997, the company has reportedly paid out an estimated $21 billion in settlements involving the drug.