CINCINNATI — A federal jury Tuesday decided that Bendectin, the drug once widely prescribed to pregnant women for nausea, did not cause birth defects in children when taken in proper doses.
The decision by the five-woman, one-man jury followed 22 days of testimony in the case brought by about 1,100 persons nationwide--two-thirds of all pending cases against the drug's manufacturer, Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals.
The lawsuits were filed by parents who contended that Bendectin had caused birth defects in their children. However, Merrell Dow maintained that the drug was safe for the estimated 33 million pregnant women who took it for morning sickness from 1956 to 1983, when the company voluntarily removed it from the market in the face of numerous lawsuits.
Merrell Dow officials hailed the decision, but Jerry Skinner, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said his clients will appeal.
Skinner said U.S. District Judge Carl B. Rubin will be asked within 10 days either to order a new trial or to rule in favor of the plaintiffs despite the jury verdict. If the judge declines, an appeal will be filed with the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals here, he said.
During the trial, which began Feb. 4 and concluded Monday, Rubin permitted each side to present 10 expert witnesses. Most of the testimony concerned scientific studies on whether Bendectin caused birth defects.
"Bendectin has been one of the most thoroughly tested drugs available to pregnant women, and reviews by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and similar regulatory agencies around the world have concluded that the scientific data do not show it causes birth defects," said David B. Sharrock, president of Merrell Dow.
When a court officer read the jury's decision, many spectators in the packed courtroom gasped in apparent surprise.
Ironically, the case was nearly settled out of court last year. Under terms of an agreement worked out last July between Merrell Dow and a majority of plaintiffs, all present and future claims against Bendectin would have been settled by Merrell Dow's creation of a $120-million fund over 20 years for plaintiffs to share.
However, some plaintiffs opposed the settlement and said they wanted to press lawsuits against Merrell Dow. They took their case to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which invalidated the settlement last October. The case then went to trial.
It was the third Bendectin court victory for Merrell Dow in the last four years. Company spokesman William Donaldson said the latest verdict makes it unlikely that the company will try to settle any of the pending lawsuits.