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Rezulin Suit Settled Before Trial

Nov 6, 2001 | Clarion-Ledger

Attorneys settled a $175 million lawsuit against the maker of Rezulin on Monday, averting the nation's first trial blaming a death on the diabetes drug.

Details of the settlement, reached Monday in Hinds County Circuit Court in Raymond, were sealed.

As part of the settlement, the drug's manufacturer, Parke-Davis/Warner-Lambert, which last year voluntarily stopped selling the drug in the United States, denied any wrongdoing.

Jury selection had been planned for today, before the settlement was reached in Ouida Cunningham's wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of her husband, Orville Cunningham, 61.

He died in December 1999 of liver disease, six months after a liver transplant.

Orville Cunningham, who taught sociology at Jackson State University for 13 years, had taken Rezulin in 1997 and 1998 to treat his diabetes.

"Mrs. Cunningham is extremely pleased with the settlement," said her attorney, Roe Frazer. "She can put this disaster behind her and get on with her life. She can take some consolation in that she was one of the leaders in getting Rezulin pulled off the market."

Ouida Cunningham said she feels she accomplished what she wanted in filing the lawsuit, though no settlement can make up for the loss of her husband.

"Justice has been served," Cunningham said. "I feel a little numb."

Rezulin, released to the public in March 1997, has been linked to at least 63 deaths nationwide, some involving liver damage.

Parke-Davis/Warner-Lambert pulled the drug off the market after the Food and Drug Administration requested in March 2000 that it no longer be sold.

Frank Wood Jr. of Jackson, one of the attorneys for the drug maker, told Circuit Judge L. Breland Hilburn that both the plaintiffs and the defense agreed the settlement was not an admission of guilt on the part of the company.

"Parke-Davis/Warner Lambert denies all the material facts in the complaint," Wood said.

Everything the company did in marketing the prescription drug was legal and proper, he said.

Frazer told the judge he was confident in the plaintiff's ability to prove the case had it gone to trial.

The lawsuit claimed Rezulin was defective and unreasonably dangerous because of inadequate testing.

Bob Fauteux, a spokesman for Pfizer in New York City, has said, "We do not believe Rezulin had anything to do with Dr. Cunningham's condition."

Pfizer bought Warner-Lambert and its subsidiary, Parke-Davis, in November 1999, almost two years after the drug was first marketed in the United States.

Rezulin was a once-a-day pill that replaced or helped diabetics cut back on insulin injections. It was prescribed for Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, which usually starts in adulthood.

Fauteux said of the 1.9 million patients prescribed the drug, fewer than 100 reported acute liver failures leading to death or transplant.

Fauteux said Monday the terms of the settlement couldn't be discussed. He said he couldn't comment on whether the state's perception by some as a mecca for high-dollar jury verdicts played any part in settling the case.

Recently, a Holmes County Circuit Court jury awarded $150 million in compensatory damages to six laborers from Attala and Holmes counties in an asbestos case.

In another case, a jury in Claiborne County awarded 10 plaintiffs $100 million in a lawsuit against the makers of the heartburn drug Propulsid.

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