September 4, 2012 — U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III of Pennsylvania has ruled that Fen Phen lawsuits involving latent Primary Pulmonary Hypertension (PPH) will be allowed to proceed. Pfizer, Inc. had argued that plaintiffs could not prove that Fen Phen could cause PPH more than a decade after a user discontinued the pills. Judge Bartle disagreed.
The two lawsuits at issue were filed on behalf of Jamie Cheek, who developed PPH 9 years after she used Fen Phen, and Valerie Farmer, who developed PPH 11 years after using Fen Phen. Attorneys for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, the company that invented Fen Phen in the 1990s, argued that the cases should be thrown out because the plaintiffs had no evidence that Fen Phen could cause PPH more than a decade after the pills were discontinued.
Judge Bartle found that there was enough scientific evidence supporting the plaintiff’s latent PPH argument, and plaintiff’s attorneys could “properly rely on” these studies. The ruling is a victory for people who used Fen Phen in the 1990s and are now suffering from PPH.
Judge Bartle also wrote that his opinion makes “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 that decision must be made by the jury if the cases go to trial.
Pfizer, Inc. acquired Wyeth in 2009 in a $69 billion buyout. Wyeth already set aside more than $21 billion to settle Fen Phen lawsuits. Judge Bartle’s ruling indicates that Pfizer will inherit the long-term liability from the Fen Phen litigation, although it is unclear how many people were injured by latent PPH. Before Fen Phen was recalled in 1997, more than 6 million prescriptions were written. At one point, Wyeth faced 175,000 claims from people who used the drug and accused the company of putting profits above safety.
Although there are very few Fen Phen PPH lawsuits, these have generated the highest settlements. PPH is a severe lung disease that causes progressive lung and heart damage, which often ultimately leads to heart failure. There is no cure for PPH — treatment can only slow the progression of the disease, which is often fatal. Because this injury is very severe, many juries have ordered Wyeth to pay tens of millions of dollars to compensate Fen Phen PPH lawsuits.
In 2004, a Texas state-court jury ordered that Wyeth must pay the family of Cynthia Cappel-Coffey more than $1 billion in damages — including $113 million in compensatory damages, and $900 million in punitive damages. Coffey died of PPH after using Fen Phen.