$967,000 awarded to Dalkon Shield user Contraceptive caused woman's infertility

March 25, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

A 41-year-old museum guide from Easton who suffered from a cantaloupe-sized abscess on her uterus won one of the largest judgments in a quarter-century of legal warfare over the Dalkon Shield contraceptive device in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

But the almost $1 million that Christina M. Schwartz won from the bankrupt A. H. Robins Co. was won only by persevering through humiliating attacks on her character and sexual history, according to her attorney, Roy L. Mason of Baltimore.

Attorneys representing the trust fund established to settle with victims of the flawed intrauterine devices argued that Schwartz brought her problems upon herself by contracting gonorrhea and living a promiscuous lifestyle -- neither of which was true, Mason said.

The judgment marks a near end to the mammoth battle over the contraceptive device, which doctors inserted into perhaps 4 million women from 1971 to 1974 before it was pulled from the market.

Four hundred thousand women filed claims against the Richmond, Va.,-based manufacturing company during the 1970s and 1980s, complaining of infections, intense abdominal pain and, in some cases, sterility.

More than 99 percent of those claims have been settled, the vast majority of them for less than $100,000, said Michael Sheppard, executive director of the Dalkon Claimants Trust, which was established to distribute $2.6 billion in settlements when the A. H. Robins Co. was sued out of business in 1985.

Schwartz's case, which concluded Thursday in U.S. District Judge Joseph Young's courtroom, was unusual because she demanded a jury trial and won a relatively large amount from the jury of four men and two women, Sheppard said. The jury awarded her $967,000.

"This case was just a horror for her," said Mason, whose client was not available for an interview. "Not only was she traumatized by having all of her reproductive organs removed. She also has a large scar on her abdomen. And she's had to take menopause treatments since the age of 17."

An attorney representing the Dalkon trust fund, Kathleen Cox, said she was "disappointed" by the jury's finding and that the case would be appealed.

Schwartz was a 17-year-old high school student in Easton in 1973 when she went to the Talbot County Health Clinic to get birth control because she was having sex with a boyfriend and did not want to get pregnant, according to court documents and Mason.

She decided to avoid birth control pills because she suffered from migraine headaches and she worried the pill would make them worse. Doctors at the clinic advised her that the safest and most effective method of birth control for her would be the then-2-year-old Dalkon Shield intrauterine device.

The device is inserted into the uterus to prevent a fertilized egg from nesting into the walls of the uterus and growing into a fetus. The shield has a string made of hundreds of microfilaments wrapped in a nylon sheath leading down from it into the woman's vagina.

Schwartz and other plaintiffs claim that vaginal fluids containing bacteria rise through this string like wax being drawn up a candle wick and cause often severe infections in the uterus.

Soon after getting the device inserted in her body, Schwartz suffered severe abdominal pain and exhaustion and admitted herself to Easton Memorial Hospital, where doctors found a large infected abscess. Surgeons removed all of her reproductive organs to rid her body of the infection, according to court records.

Over the next two decades, several men rejected her efforts to form romantic attachments because of her inability to bear children, Mason said. She married but promptly divorced, in part because of disputes with her husband over child-rearing, Mason said.

Schwartz became depressed and her career suffered, Mason said. She is working as a guide for an art museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. But she's been denied her true vocation in life, which has always been having children, Mason said.

Pub Date: 3/25/97

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