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Court Case Over Heartburn Medicine Begins In Napa

Mar 18, 2003 | NapaNet Daily News

A wrongful-death trial with national implications in which a Napa man died after taking heartburn medicine got underway Monday at the Napa County courthouse with jury selection.

Once the jury is chosen, the trial is expected to begin within a week and could last for a month.

John Calvert, 46, suffered cardiac arrest Sept. 13, 1999. His family claims the fatal heart attack was spurred by side effects of the heartburn medication Propulsid, which has since been taken off the market.

Calvert's widow, Rosemary, and her three children filed the wrongful-death and negligence suit against Janssen Pharmaceutica, a division of Johnson & Johnson. Napa physician Thomas Suard, who prescribed the drug to Calvert, is also being sued.

After the prospective jurors list was whittled down from more than 100 down to about 40, Napa County Superior Court Judge Scott Snowden listened to preliminary motions from both sides Monday afternoon.

Opening statements are set to begin Tuesday. Snowden said the trial should last through the month of April.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced in March 2000 that Propulsid could cause irregular heartbeat and sudden death. Propulsid, manufactured by Janssen, has been linked to 341 reports of heart rhythm abnormalities, including 80 deaths, according to the FDA. Janssen stopped production in July 2000. Since the drug was made available in 1993, nearly 30 million Americans have taken the drug.

There are more than 700 other Propulsid cases, including 429 wrongful-death suits, but only one case has gone to trial with a verdict against the company, a Janssen spokesman said.

A Mississippi jury awarded $100 million to 10 people in 2001, but a judge cut the settlement to $48 million earlier this month. The company is currently in the process of appealing the settlement in Mississippi Supreme Court, a Janssen spokesman said.

Calvert grew up in Napa, graduated from Napa High in 1971 and married Rosemary three years later. He worked at Kaiser Steel Corp. until 1986 before becoming a psychiatric technician at Napa State Hospital, where he later became a registered nurse.

The Calverts claim the drug corporation's negligence in its development of Propulsid caused the death. The suit claims Suard was negligent in monitoring Calvert for possible heart problems as a result of using the drug.

The drug company blames the death on Calvert's on-going heart disease. Suard claims he had no knowledge of the drug's possible side effects prior to Calvert's death, court files said.


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