More than 10 Years Later, Drug Settlement Litigation is Still Going

On November 19, 1999, American Home Products Corporation, now known as Wyeth, entered into a settlement agreement with class members of a diet drug nationwide class action, creating a settlement trust to pay claims of class members that were injured by ingesting certain diet drugs. On August 28, 2000, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania entered an order certifying and approving the nationwide settlement class. Now, more than 10 years later, there is still litigation surrounding claimants seeking benefits under this settlement agreement.

In fact, in the past two weeks, on April 6, 2010 and April 13, 2010, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Third Circuit, respectively, upheld the decisions by the settlement trust to deny benefits. In re Diet Drugs Products Liability Litigation, No. 99-20593, 2010 WL 1404624 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 6, 2010); In re Diet Drugs Products Liability Litigation, No. 09-2424, 2010 WL 1473752 (3d Cir. Apr. 14, 2010).

The decision by the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on April 6, 2010 involved claimant Betty Brown-Riddle. In order to seek benefits from the trust, Brown-Riddle had to submit evidence that she she suffered from “moderate aortic regurgitation,” as set forth in the Settlement Agreement. Brown-Riddle submitted a statement by her treating physician that she suffered from “mild to moderate aortic insufficiency.” Thereafter, the trust forwarded Brown-Riddle’s claim for review. The reviewing physician found that there was no reasonable medical basis for her treating physician’s finding that she suffered from moderate aortic regurgitation. As a result, the trust denied her claim and she sought review. After a series of administrative reviews pursuant to the Settlement Agreement, Brown-Riddle’s found its way into the district court for review.

The Court found that Brown-Riddle merely disagreed with the reviewing physician’s determination that she lacked a medical basis for her claim. She failed to identify or substantiate any specific errors and rested on her physician’s “check-the-box diagnoses.” The Court affirmed the decision of the trust denying benefits.

Similar to the above case, on April 13, 2010, the Third Circuit reviewed a claim of a class member that had been denied benefits. In this case, the Court affirmed the decision of the district court that the claimant did not provide adequate proof of diet drug ingestion required to support her claim because her supporting affidavits provided a dispense date when the drugs were off the market and stated dosages that were inconsistent with the dosages at which the drugs were issued. Further, addressing an argument by claimant, the Court found that the form she had to fill out in connection with her claim for benefits did not constitute a contract for benefits.

These decisions by the the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Third Circuit show that even when a mass class action is settled, litigation continues and our courts are continually asked to evaluate expert evidence as it would in a case of traditional posture. Plaintiffs in these types of cases are not off the hook of providing expert testimony. It will be interesting to note when litigation surrounding this class settlement ends — 10 more years, maybe 20.

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