November 21, 1997 in Nation/World

Fen-Phen Lawsuits To Be Argued In Court Today

Kathleen Kerr Newsday

Dozens of attorneys from across the country are expected to meet at the federal courthouse in Fort Myers, Fla., today as the legal battle over damages allegedly caused by fen-phen diet drugs heats up.

Some attorneys whose clients claim they suffered physical harm from taking the diet drug combination known as “fen-phen” will ask a seven-judge federal panel to clear the way for a number of lawsuits in different jurisdictions, known as multidistrict litigation.

But another group of attorneys wants to have the fen-phen complaints consolidated in a class action. However, a concern about class actions is that more seriously injured plaintiffs do not do well in settlements because money must be distributed among a large group.

The Mayo Clinic and the MeritCare Medical Center of Fargo, N.D., first reported heart valve damage linked to fen-phen in July.

Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories withdrew Redux and Pondimin - two of the diet pills used in the fen-phen combination - from the market on Sept. 15 after they had been linked to serious heart valve disease. Phentermine, the third fen-phen drug, remains on the market.

Paul Rheingold, a New York City attorney, is one of those seeking multidistrict litigation. Rheingold’s son David, also an attorney, explained their preference.

“These are highly individualized cases,” David Rheingold said. “The cases can go to the original court.”

Roger Cisneros, of the Arnold Laub law firm in San Francisco, said his firm has filed a federal class action asking drug companies to pay for medical testing of clients who claim they have been harmed by the fen-phen drugs. The firm also has filed a number of class actions in various state courts.

“We’re bringing it as a product liability case,” Cisneros said.

And in Miami, attorney Jonathan Colby, who says his firm has 3,000 clients with fen-phen complaints, has filed a state class action. Colby said he also plans to file individual lawsuits against weight-loss clinics that dispensed the fen-phen drugs.

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