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Upland Stroke Victim Sues Metabolife

Man's Suit Is One of Dozens Filed Against Diet-Supplement Company

Nov 15, 2002 | San Bernardino Sun, An Upland man is suing diet supplement giant Metabolife because he says the mixture of caffeine and ephedrine in its popular pill caused him to have a stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to work.

Tom Hendriksen's suit in West Valley Superior Court is one of about 100 active cases against Metabolife.

There have been 145 personal injury cases against the company, 29 of which have ended in settlements totaling more than $5 million, Metabolife attorney Lanny Davis said during a Senate subcommittee meeting Oct. 8, according to Senate documents.

Out of the 145 cases, one ended in a summary judgment and nine were dropped, Davis said.

Hendriksen's case might be the first lawsuit against the company that will end with a jury decision, said Hendriksen's attorney, Christopher Grell. The trial began Nov. 5 and is expected to last until December.

"I just wanted to see if I could get some help paying these bills,' Hendriksen said. "And to let everyone know how stupid this drug is.'

Attorneys for Metabolife and a spokeswoman for the company declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Metabolife 356 is sold in most major drug and grocery stores across the country.

Ephedrine is a common ingredient in diet pills. It is the synthetic version of ephedra, which is extracted from the Chinese ma huang root.

"A number of adverse effects, including hypertension (elevated blood pressure), palpitations (rapid heart rate), neuropathy (nerve damage), myopathy (muscle injury), psychosis and memory loss, or even the more serious adverse effects of heart attacks, strokes, seizures and death, have been reported to the FDA with products containing ma huang or other species of ephedra as ingredients,' said Federal Drug Administration Deputy Commissioner Lester Crawford at the October Senate meeting.

In August 1998, Hendriksen had been taking Metabolife for about three months. The 6-feet-tall, 240-pound man had lost about 30 pounds before the stroke, said Dena Hendriksen, his wife.

At the time, Tom Hendriksen was 47 and had a history of high blood pressure and diabetes. He consulted with his doctor before he began taking the pill, he said.

Hendriksen's insurance coverage ran out shortly after the stroke. He is not getting physical therapy and depends greatly on his family to get around, he said.

He went through an intensive program at Casa Colina Centers for Rehabilitation in Pomona before the insurance ran out.

"When I was in rehab in Casa Colina, they told me I would never work again, but I tried to prove them wrong,' Hendriksen said.

But due to the heavy paralysis Hendriksen has on his left side, he was unable to do his last job as a warehouse manager, he said.

An economist hired by Grell testified Friday that Hendriksen would have earned $837,465 had he worked until he was 65.

The stroke has had many negative effects on Hendriksen's relationships with his family and friends. He has not had intimate relations with his wife since the stroke, he said while testifying Thursday.

"I find myself blowing up at (Dena Hendriksen). I'm constantly making amends with her and it gets old,' he said. "I can't seem to tolerate people like I used to.'

He only walks at home and even that is just a few feet, he said.

Friday marked the first day attorneys for Metabolife called a witness to the stand. In the two weeks prior, Grell called a number of Hendriksen's family members, friends and expert witnesses.

Dr. Eric Gershwin, director of the Department of Molecular Biosciences at UC Davis and an authority on herbal supplements, testified that the amount of ephedrine and caffeine in Metabolife is harmless and could not have caused Hendriksen's stroke.

In the next two weeks the defense is expected to bring a number of other expert witnesses either in person or through deposition, Grell said.

Hendriksen's case comes three months after the FDA asked the Department of Justice to pursue a criminal investigation into Metabolife for not providing the FDA with reports of adverse effects the drug had on users. Shortly after, Metabolife provided 14,700 reports to the FDA.

The reports, taken from consumer calls to Metabolife's toll-free help number, have been submitted to the Rand Corp. for evaluation, said Brad Stone, FDA spokesman.

Rand Corp. is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision making through research analysis. The FDA expects results by the end of the month, Stone said.

Hendriksen's trial begins three months after the U.S. military banned the sale of all ephedra-containing products at bases until the Department of Health and Human Services concludes a study on the drug, said Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen Health Research Group, at the Senate subcommittee meeting. The results are expected within six months, he said.

Thirty-three military personnel deaths have been linked to ephedra, Wolfe said.

At the same meeting, Metabolife Chief Executive Officer David Brown defended his product through a written statement.

"There should be no doubt that we strongly believe that properly manufactured dietary supplements that contain ephedra are safe when taken as directed on Metabolife's label. To our knowledge, there is not a single well-controlled clinical study that demonstrates that ephedra supplements are unsafe when taken as directed,' Brown wrote.

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