Norplant suits move to users' home states Judge denies request that cases be given class-action status

September 04, 1996|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

Regrouping after a devastating ruling in the Norplant product liability case, 15 women from Maryland have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Baltimore, claiming they suffered through a series of medical maladies from the surgically implanted device.

The suit is part of a flurry of cases that lawyers say will be filed in federal courthouses around the country. Last month, a U.S. judge in Texas denied class-action status to more than 50,000 women who say the device caused blurred vision, moods swings and other medical woes.

The women are now taking their cases back to U.S. courthouses in their home states, moves designed to keep their claims alive and win possible settlements with the maker of Norplant, Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories in Philadelphia, lawyers and medical malpractice experts say.

"The women are having a number of complications," said Donald S. Saiontz, an attorney for the 15 women who filed their suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Thursday. "Some of them feel that they have done serious damage to their reproductive systems."

For the past two years, a growing number of women have been complaining about side effects from the implant -- matchstick-size silicone prongs that are inserted under the skin and slowly emit a synthetic hormone into the bloodstream, preventing pregnancies for up to five years.

The women claim that they have suffered headaches, dizziness, depression, tumors, excessive bleeding and fertility problems. With dozens of suits being filed around the nation, lawyers tried to consolidated the cases in a class-action case.

But in a ruling last month, U.S. District Judge Richard Schell in Texas refused to grant the class-action status, deciding that many of the women suffered from different problems. He said their cases should be tried separately. The first Norplant trial is scheduled to start early next year in Texas.

If the judge had granted class-action status to the women, anyone who had the device inserted and reported medical problems could have been entitled to potential damages from Wyeth-Ayerst. It is estimated that nearly 600,000 women have used Norplant, and it remains on the market with backing from the Federal Food and Drug Administration.

Instead, the women are now being forced to fight their cases on their own. The suits being filed in Baltimore and other cities around the country reserve the women's right to fight the company by complying with the statute of limitations in product liability cases.

In Maryland, plaintiffs have three years to file law suits from the date they started to use the product. They also have three years from the time they found out it may have been defective, according to Jonathan Schochor, a Baltimore lawyer who specializes in medical negligence cases.

A spokeswoman for Wyeth-Ayerst said the firm expects dozens more to be filed, and vows to fight every one of them.

"These filings are not unexpected," spokeswoman Audrey Ashby said yesterday. "We stand behind the safety and efficacy of the Norplant system, and will continue to contest all law suits concerning the product."

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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