September 4, 2012 — A federal judge has ruled that lawsuits filed by people who developed Primary Pulmonary Hypertension (PPH) more than 10 years after they used the pills will be allowed to proceed.
Lawyers for Pfizer, Inc. argued that there was not enough evidence to support the plaintiff’s PPH latency argument, but U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III in Philadelphia disagreed.
The ruling is a victory for people who used Fen Phen in the 1990s and developed PPH many years later. Judge Bartle said that plaintiff’s experts can “properly rely on” studies indicating that PPH caused by Fen Phen can occur more than 10 years after the person stopped using the pills.
The ruling also means that Pfizer, Inc. will inherit much of the future Fen Phen liability from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, the company that invented Fen Phen in the 1990s and was acquired by Pfizer in 2009 for $69 billion. Wyeth already set aside $21.1 billion in reserves to resolve the litigation.
The lawsuits were filed on behalf of Jamie Cheek and Valerie Farmer, and have been set for trial. Attorneys for Wyeth wanted the cases thrown out, because they argued the plaintiffs couldn’t prove that their injuries occurred due to Fen Phen. Cheek’s injuries occurred nine years after she stopped using Fen Phen, and Farmer’s occurred 11 years later. Lawyers for the women argued that there are many studies indicating that PPH can have a latency period.
Judge Bartle agreed that there is evidence supporting the claim that Fen Phen can cause latent PPH. In the Judge’s opinion, he wrote that his ruling expresses “no view on whether Ms. Cheek’s ingestion of the diet drugs caused her PPH when her symptoms did not appear until eleven years after she stopped taking those drugs.” He said juries must make that decision in her specific care.
It is unknown how many people developed latent PPH due to Fen Phen. More than 6 million prescriptions were written for the diet pills before they were recalled in 1997. Wyeth once faced nearly 175,000 claims, most of which accused the company of failing to warn about severe side effects. Studies have linked Fen Phen to severe lung damage, including PPH, which often causes death.
Although the number of PPH lawsuits is relatively small, the cases have generated some of the largest settlements in the Fen Phen litigation, often for tens of millions of dollars. In 2004, a state-court jury ordered Wyeth to pay more than $1 billion to the family of Cynthia Cappel-Coffey, a woman who died of PPH. The judgement included $113 million in compensatory damages and $900 million in punitive damages.