The state Supreme Court gave class-action status Thursday to lawsuits against the maker of the diabetes drug Rezulin, which was pulled three years ago because of liver-related deaths.
The court reversed a decision by Raleigh County Circuit Judge John A. Hutchison, who denied the plaintiffs’ class-action request in 2001 and ruled that tests did not conclusively prove the drug caused liver damage.
Hutchison will now hear the case brought on behalf of up to 5,000 West Virginians to recover the costs of medical monitoring to determine whether they have been injured by the drug.
Rezulin, made by Warner-Lambert Co., won Food and Drug Administration approval in 1997 and generated $2.1 billion in revenue before it was banned in March 2000. FDA research linked the drug to 63 deaths from liver failure.
The Supreme Court concluded that Hutchison was mistaken in considering the merits of the claims at this early stage and said the judge also erred in denying the class certification.
During oral arguments before the court, Warner-Lambert attorney Michael J. Farrell argued that no diagnostic test could prove that a person’s liver damage was caused by Rezulin.
Warner-Lambert was bought by Pfizer Inc. in 2000.
More than 2 million people took Rezulin before it was pulled from the market, and Pfizer has said it faces hundreds of lawsuits and claims over the drug.