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Bechler’s Widow Sues Companies For $600M

Lawsuit alleges ephedra killed Orioles pitcher

Jul 18, 2003 | Baltimore Sun

The widow of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler has filed a $600 million lawsuit against the maker of the ephedra-based diet drug and stimulant that was in his system when he died of heatstroke in February.

Kiley Bechler and her attorney filed the suit Wednesday against Cytodyne Technologies, the company that produces Xenadrine RFA-1, and named New York-based manufacturer Phoenix Laboratories and Cytodyne president Robert Chinery as codefendants.

The suit alleges the controversial nutritional supplement was directly responsible for Bechler's collapse during a spring training workout at the Orioles' training facility in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Feb. 16. Bechler lost consciousness and his body temperature rose to 108 degrees, causing his major organs to fail. He died the next day.

"Steve Bechler is dead. Ephedra killed him," the plaintiffs charged in court documents, which were filed at U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale. The suit also alleges that the defendants disregarded the safety of consumers in the pursuit of profits from the herbal supplement, which was exempt from the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration at the time of the incident.

Since then, the FDA has taken steps to warn consumers about the possible dangers of products that contain ephedra (and its active ingredient, ephedrine) and estimate the substance has played a role in more than 100 deaths nationwide.

Broward County medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper pointed to ephedra as a contributing factor almost immediately after Bechler's death, even before the toxicological report confirmed Bechler had taken three Xenadrine capsules the morning before he collapsed.

The lawsuit also names as a defendant a yet-to-be-determined company, representing wherever Bechler purchased the Xenadrine.

There never seemed any doubt that Bechler's widow, who was pregnant with the couple's first child when her husband died, would file a product liability lawsuit. The only question was who would be named in the suit and how much money would hang in the balance.

"She has every right to do that," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove. "She lost her husband. I'm sure that the drug company will argue that it was not the fault of the product and there are others who would argue that, but here's a young lady who has been widowed. Most people would root for the underdog."

Kiley Bechler, who gave birth to a girl named Hailie on April 22, is seeking compensation for the loss of her husband and a ban on the future sale of ephedra-based products. Meiselman declined to comment on the size of the award being sought or how he arrived at the $600 million figure.

"If they determine there was negligence involved, she has a right to be compensated," said Orioles first baseman Jeff Conine.

There initially was speculation that the Orioles might be named as a codefendant, but the Bechler family never took issue with the team's handling of the situation, and workers' compensation law makes it extremely difficult to collect damages from an employer in a wrongful-death suit.

During the weeks after Bechler's death, a trade group representing several makers of ephedra-based products staged a media campaign to deflect blame for the incident to Bechler and the team. Industry advocates still insist ephedrine products are safe if used as directed, but several companies including Cytodyne are now aggressively marketing ephedrine-free versions of their most popular weight-loss products.

Cytodyne has yet to make a public response to the lawsuit, but it seems certain the defendants will point to Bechler's history of hypertension and liver problems as well as previous heat-related incidents to explain his death.

The NFL, the International Olympic Committee and several other major sports organizations have banned the use of ephedra-based products, but ephedra is not on Major League Baseball's list of restricted substances.

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