PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Opponents of a proposed $3.75 billion national settlement of health claims against the diet drug combination fen-phen called the deal inadequate Tuesday as a judge began hearing testimony on the fairness of the settlement.
U.S. District Judge Louis C. Bechtle, who gave preliminary approval to the deal in November, is expected to decide at the end of the two-week hearing whether the settlement will stand.
Edward F. Blizzard, an attorney for a group of fen-phen users who object to the settlement, wants the judge to throw it out.
"The plan is illegal and unfair," Blizzard said Tuesday. "The amounts being offered to settle these claims are inadequate to compensate people for their injuries."
The drug's maker, American Home Products, and plaintiffs' attorneys who worked out the settlement last October favor its approval.
More than 9,000 lawsuits have been filed against Madison, N.J.-based American Home, maker of fenfluramine, the "fen" in the fen-phen combination. The company sold the drug under the brand name of Pondimin and also made Redux, a chemical cousin.
The drugs were withdrawn in September 1997 after a Mayo Clinic study linked the fen-phen combination to potentially fatal heart valve damage. The second drug in the combination, phentermine, was not linked to the problems.
Under the settlement, the fen-phen users would get a maximum of $1.5 million, though most would get far less, depending on their
level of injury and how long they took the drugs. The settlement also includes money for their future medical monitoring.
"The settlement is the result of a dedicated effort between plaintiffs' attorneys and American Home Products to create a
comprehensive and equitable plan," said Louis L. Hoynes Jr., American Home's senior vice president and general counsel.
Of 6 million people who took fen-phen before it was pulled from the market, 45,000 refused the settlement and retain the right to sue for punitive damages. Those who remained in the class action may still reject the settlement and sue for compensatory damages but are forbidden from collecting punitive damages.