A US Federal Court jury in Birmingham, Alabama, yesterday awarded more than $4 million to four people who suffered strokes and cardiac injuries after taking ephedra dietary supplements sold by Metabolife International, said attorney Michael Hackard, currently investigating the California-based company. Hackard added that the development is likely to trigger a wave of similar lawsuits in the state.
"This company took advantage of millions of people by exploiting their frustration over their inability to lose weight and lead healthier lives. California was in the crosshairs of Metabolife's marketing drive. But this state also has a court system ideally suited to handle California cases against Metabolife," said Hackard, who is working with attorney Archie Lamb, lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the Birmingham case.
Hackard explained that cases filed in multiple California counties that share a common issue of fact or law qualify for consolidation under a single court, a process that California judges used in recent litigation involving breast implants and another diet drug, fen-phen.
"The use of Metabolife 356 throughout California has been widespread and pervasive," Hackard said, estimating that hundreds of thousands of people used the supplement until 2002.
Since early 1990, the US Food and Drug Administration has issued numerous warnings to consumers of diet products such as Metabolife 356. Metabolife 356 and similar supplements contain Ephedrine (also known as Ephedra or Ma Huang) which have led to numerous reports of adverse events. Problems experienced by some include heart attacks, seizures and strokes, which, in some situations, have resulted in death, said the attorney.
There are a number of additional lawsuits currently filed against Metabolife in various jurisdictions throughout the United States as well as an ongoing US Justice Department investigation, opened in August this year, after the Food and Drug Administration questioned whether the company had made false statements regarding the existence of side-effect reports on ephedra products.
"This is a great victory for the many people injured by this dangerous and unmonitored supplement," Lamb said about the award in Birmingham. "The jury agreed that the use of this powerful, unregulated product was the direct cause of life-threatening injuries. Only through the jury system can we level the playing field against a major corporation and ensure the removal of such products from the marketplace."
In a testimony before a congressional subcommittee in October, Metabolife reiterated its position that products containing ephedra were safe and that the Food and Drug Administration should provide stronger regulation of products to ensure they were used safely. There have also been recent studies showing that the controversial supplement can be used safely and effectively but with several medical experts speaking out against the herb, and bans enforced in some countries, there seems little the industry can do to restore faith in ephedra.