Judge OKs $3.75 Billion Fen-Phen Payment

ByABC News

P H I L A D E L P H I A, Aug. 29, 2000 -- A federal judge has approved a proposed$3.75 billion national settlement of health claims stemming fromthe diet drug combination fen-phen, which has been linked topotentially fatal heart valve damage.

Under the settlement approved Monday, fen-phen users would getup to $1.5 million, though most would get far less, depending ontheir level of injury and how long they took the drugs. Thesettlement also includes money for future medical monitoring.

U.S. District Judge Louis C. Bechtle gave preliminary approvalto the settlement in November. Barring an appeal, attorneys saidfen-phen users could begin receiving settlement checks as early asJanuary.

More than 9,000 lawsuits have been filed against American HomeProducts, maker of fenfluramine, the “fen” in the fen-phen dietdrug combination. The Madison, N.J.-based company sold thecombination under the brand name of Pondimin and also made Redux, achemical cousin.

Linked to Heart Valve Damage

The drugs were withdrawn in September 1997 after a Mayo Clinicstudy linked fen-phen to potentially fatal heart valve damage. Thesecond drug in the combination, phentermine, was not linked to theproblems.

“The settlement resolves the vast majority of the claims andpotential claims that the company was facing, and it’s a very, verysignificant step forward in resolving the litigation,” saidMichael Scott of Philadelphia, one of the attorneys representingAmerican Home.

Attorney Edward F. Blizzard of Houston had objected to thesettlement in June on behalf of a group of diet-drug users, sayingit would likely be reversed because of all the other lawsuitspending. Blizzard did not immediately return a call for commentMonday. He has said he would appeal if the settlement was approved.

Other opponents have complained that the monetary damages don’tgo far enough, that the settlement doesn’t include compensation forpeople who may develop health problems later, and that users hadinadequate representation.

Of 6 million people who took fen-phen before it was pulled fromthe market, about 45,000 have refused the settlement and retain theright to sue for punitive damages. Some 266,000 others haveregistered to join the class and may still reject the settlementand sue for compensatory damages but not punitive damages.

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