Elizabeth Darsie woke up on a December morning two years ago and found her husband collapsed in a chair, unable to walk.
The Coon Rapids man had gotten up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and his “leg muscles stopped working,” Darsie said.
Ronald Darsie’s kidneys failed in the hospital and he died 10 days later. The cause of death: Rhabdomyolysis, a muscle-weakening condition, can be fatal and has been linked with the cholesterol-lowering drug Baycol.
Bayer, the German pharmaceutical maker, pulled Baycol off the market in August 2001 after the drug was linked to more than 50 deaths worldwide. That number now has risen to at least 100 and the drug is at the center of thousands of lawsuits in federal and state courts across the country.
Bayer says the number of Baycol-related lawsuits has risen to 7,800, with 805 filed in Minnesota.
On Thursday, attorneys argued over whether the cases should be consolidated into one class-action suit in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.
“We think there are dozens of fact questions that have global applicability. Judicial economy dictates that these be resolved at one time, in one place rather than in 50 states around the country,” said Richard Arsenault, who argued the plaintiffs’ case before Judge Michael Davis.
The courtroom was packed with teams of attorneys from around the country who have worked on complicated mass litigation cases, including suits against tobacco companies and the makers of breast implants and diet drugs.
Arthur Miller, Harvard law professor, television personality and an expert in civil procedures, took part in some of the arguments for the plaintiffs.
Philip Beck, Bayer’s lead counsel on the Baycol case, was the main trial lawyer for the Justice Department in the Microsoft antitrust case. He also led President Bush’s legal team in the dispute over the 2000 election results in Florida.
Two Twin Cities law firms Zimmerman Reed and Lockridge Grindal Nauen are the lead plaintiffs’ counsels in the lawsuit.
Bayer already has settled 430 cases and individual trials, and settlements will probably play a key role in resolving many of the pending cases, regardless of whether a class action is ordered, Beck said..
He argued that the number of people who have suffered serious side effects from the drug is small and that those people would not stay within the confines of a class action anyway.
“Reality No. 1 is that for the vast, vast, vast majority of the people who took Baycol, the drug worked perfectly,” Beck said. According to Bayer, 900,000 people in the United States took the drug over a three-and-a-half-year period from January 1998 to August 2001.
Because of the different individual circumstances for each patient, “There will be potentially hundreds of thousands of unique individual fact patterns in this case,” Beck said.
The certification hearing will continue today.
Darsie, the woman whose husband died after taking Baycol, plans to go ahead with her own suit regardless of the judge’s decision.
Ronald Darsie had been taking Lipitor, another cholesterol-lowering drug, for years but switched to Baycol because he wanted to take something that was less expensive. He collapsed after taking the drug for only a week and a half.
Baycol “was the only thing we figured it had to be,” his widow said.