Oklahomans file dozens of lawsuits against Bayer Corporation

Monday, July 21st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ More than 50 lawsuits have been filed across Oklahoma against Bayer Corporation for its cholesterol-lowering drug Baycol, which was voluntarily pulled off the market two years ago.

The lawsuits allege the drug caused severe breakdowns in muscle cells, kidney problems and even death.

As many as 90 additional lawsuits could be filed in Oklahoma County District Court before Aug. 7, when the statute of limitations goes into effect.

Worldwide, more than 9,400 lawsuits have been filed against Bayer.

Among the Oklahoma plaintiffs is Elk City teacher Don Kenney, who felt his leg muscles tightening as he drove a Pioneer Elementary School bus. He couldn't drive faster than 20 mph because he lacked the strength to push down any harder on the accelerator.

The fourth-grade instructor and bus driver eventually reached the school, waited 20 minutes, then summoned help to get off the vehicle.

Over the next week, his condition _ which he thought was a pulled hamstring _ worsened.

When Kenney, who took Baycol to control high cholesterol, came to school one day pale and weak, he was taken to OU Medical Center. An emergency room physician discovered an alarmingly high white-cell count in Kenney's blood and told the Beckham County man he would have died within 36 hours if he hadn't sought help.

To date, more than 1,000 cases around the world against Bayer have settled out of court for more than $340 million. Several Oklahoma cases have been settled out of court, including the cases of Kenney, 57, and retired Lucent worker Bill W. Moore, 64, of Choctaw.

During the nearly four years Baycol was on the market, an estimated 8,000 to 15,000 Oklahomans took the drug.

About 600 to 3,600 Oklahomans suffered some form of skeletal-muscular injuries, according to estimates in a certified class-action lawsuit filed by attorney Brad West in Shawnee.

A separate class-action lawsuit against Bayer was filed in Norman, and individual negligence lawsuits were filed in Enid and Oklahoma City. Tulsa cases have been referred to Oklahoma City attorney Don Strong.

Bayer spokeswoman Andrea Calise, contacted by The Oklahoman, said the company analyzes each Baycol lawsuit and ``will continue to vigorously defend itself'' in cases it believes Baycol did no harm to consumers.

``Baycol was a well-researched and thoroughly tested drug,'' Calise said in a statement. ``It was prescribed for over 6 million patients worldwide _ over 700,000 in the United States alone. The vast majority of these individuals took it safely and effectively, with no serious side effects.''

When Bayer became aware of increased medical problems with the drug _ particularly in combination with another medication, gemfibrozil _ ``it took appropriate action'' and ``a series of increasingly strong steps to educate doctors, pharmacists and other health-care professionals,'' Calise said.