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Pfizer Loses Second Rezulin Suit

Courts: A Texas woman died after taking the diabetes drug. A jury decides the company must pay up.

January 19, 2002|From Bloomberg News

EDINBURG, Texas — Pfizer Inc.'s Warner-Lambert Co. unit must pay $23.4 million in compensatory damages to the family of a woman who died after taking the company's Rezulin diabetes drug, a Texas jury decided Friday.

Jurors in state court in Edinburg deliberated more than four hours before finding Rezulin was responsible for Beatrice Herrera's death. The 80-year-old woman died of liver failure after taking the diabetes drug for three months.

The case is among nearly 5,000 lawsuits scheduled to go to trial on allegations that Warner-Lambert officials hid or sought to minimize Rezulin's health risks. The drug was pulled off the U.S. market last year after being blamed for at least 63 deaths tied to liver problems. Pfizer, the world's largest drug maker, bought Warner-Lambert last year.

"This corporation has no compassion, no soul and no shame," said Joseph Chapa, a lawyer representing Herrera's family. "This corporation's only motivation is greed."

Warner-Lambert's lawyers countered that Rezulin didn't cause Herrera's death and that the Food and Drug Administration found the drug was a safe way to help diabetics regulate their insulin levels.

"There is no evidence that this medicine was a poison," said Jack Urquhart, a lawyer for New York-based Pfizer. The FDA found that Warner-Lambert officials "thoroughly, carefully and completely" tested the drug before putting it on the market, he said.

The jury voted, 10 to 2, to order Pfizer to pay the $23.4 million as compensatory damages to Herrera's family. That's more than half of the $41.5 million the family's lawyers asked jurors to award in the case.

Pfizer spokesman Bob Fauteux said the company will appeal the verdict.

The jury is expected to begin deliberating punitive damages Tuesday if a settlement isn't reached in the case over the weekend.

It's the second jury verdict handed down against Pfizer in a recent wave of trials of individual lawsuits accusing Warner-Lambert executives of covering up Rezulin's health risks.

Last month, a Texas jury ordered the company to pay $43 million in damages to a woman who said Rezulin destroyed her liver.

The company later settled that case for more than $30 million, people familiar with the agreement said. Pfizer officials dispute the number while refusing to disclose the actual settlement amount.

The company has settled at least two other cases for undisclosed amounts.

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