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Pharmaceutical Cos. to Remain in Suit

Mar 7, 2002 | Associated Press

A judge Thursday refused to drop two pharmaceutical giants from scores of wrongful-death lawsuits stemming from the case of a pharmacist who watered down chemotherapy drugs given to cancer patients.

Eli Lilly and Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb argued that they were not liable for Robert Courtney's tampering with the drugs Gemzar and Taxol, made by Lilly and Squibb, respectively.

But Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Lee E. Wells told a courtroom filled with Courtney's alleged victims and their relatives: "I disagree with the argument that Lilly and or Bristol had no duty to take any act with the misuse of the drug after they knew what was going on."

Courtney, 49, pleaded guilty last week to 20 counts of tampering with and adulterating or misbranding drugs. He could get up to 30 years in prison, and most of $10 million in assets will be used for restitution.

Asked whether Lilly planned to appeal the decision, spokeswoman Judy Kay Moore said it was an option.

She also said the company was confident it did nothing wrong. Contrary to the plaintiffs' claim that a sales representative was aware of possible dilutions in early 2000, Moore said the company did not suspect any wrongdoing until May 2001.

Soon after that meeting, the FBI began its probe of Courtney.

"We believe that it is absurd to hold the pharmaceutical companies responsible for Robert Courtney's acts and that we acted both legally and ethically in this case," Moore said.

Lilly attorney Marie Woodbury had argued that under the law -- even if Lilly knew what Courtney was doing -- it had no duty to stop him. And she said there is no evidence that Lilly knew about Courtney's actions.

She and Squibb attorney James Conlon also argued that the pharmaceutical companies were not liable for the mishandling that took place after the drugs left the companies' hands.

Michael Ketchmark, an attorney for patients in 173 of the lawsuits, said the companies had a duty to warn patients. He said the companies should have known about Courtney's actions because they track what happens to the drugs from factory to the consumer.

"Not only didn't they call people or tell people, they kept giving him the instrument of the crime," Ketchmark said.

The lawsuits also name the druggist and his business as defendants.

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