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Lawsuits Over Fen-Phen Side Effects Years Later Allowed to Proceed

A federal judge has rejected an attempt by Pfizer to cut-off new lawsuits over fen-phen, which continue to be brought by individuals who indicate that they developed persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPH) from side effects of the weight-loss drug years after it was recalled from the market.  

In an order issued August 30, U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III determined that expert testimony introduced by plaintiffs, who allege that fen-phen side effects can cause serious lung problems nine or more years after last use, relies on reasonable medical studies and case reports, although a jury will still have to determine whether that evidence is sufficient.

Fen-phen was a popular diet drug that involved a combination of phentermine and fenfuramine, which was marketed as Pondimin. Fenfuramine was recalled in September 1997, after side effects were shown to cause life-threatening pulmonary hypertension and heart valve problems

The decision came in response to a motion filed by Pfizer’s Wyeth subsidiary to dismiss lawsuits filed by two women, Valarie Farmer and Jamie Cheek, who allege that they developed PPH from the recalled diet drug. Cheek alleged that she took the weight-loss drugs for approximately one year ending in late-1996, and filed her lawsuit in January 2011 after that she developed PPH. Farmer used the diet drug Pondimin for approximately three months in 1997, and was diagnosed with PPH in June 2011.

Pfizer had argued that the fen-phen PPH lawsuits should be dismissed because there is a lack of sound medical evidence linking the medication to the disease occurring nine or more years after last use.

In most cases, state-based statutes of limitations limit the amount of time a plaintiff can bring a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of a dangerous medication. However, under the latency argument, which indicates that signs of PPH may not appear for years after last use of fen-phen, some plaintiffs are able to argue that they did not discover they were injured until recently.

Judge Bartle is overseeing about 30 PPH fen-phen lawsuits in federal court in Philadelphia, and there are others that have been filed in state court in Pennsytlvania, which Pfizer is also reportedly trying to have dismissed. Pfizer and Wyeth have reportedly paid out an estimated $21 billion in fen-phen settlements since it was removed from the market.

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