Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Lawsuits pending across country against diet aid

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Sherry Cox was thrilled Tuesday when she heard that federal officials had banned dietary supplements containing ephedra because of health concerns.

Her mother, Linda Beckman, 51, died of a brain aneurysm in 1999, which she claims in a federal lawsuit was brought on by her mother's use of Metabolife 356, which contains ephedra. The suit is pending in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

"I was so happy when I heard. I don't want anyone to go through what I went through," said Cox, 24, of Mariemont.

Her lawyer, Janet Abaray, said Beckman isn't the only local woman who suffered ill effects tied to the use of dietary supplements containing the herbal stimulant.

Over the last two years, Abaray has represented five people in cases involving ephedra, four of which were filed against Metabolife and one filed against Metabolite, both companies that use ephedra in their dietary supplements.

Three of the cases were personal injury suits against Metabolife. They have been settled and the terms are confidential, Abaray said. The Beckman case goes to trial in February. The fifth lawsuit was filed in Northern Kentucky.

There are pending lawsuits across the country against companies who use ephedra in their products, Abaray said.

A search of federal courts, Abaray said, turned up 50 cases pending against Metabolife and at least a dozen pending against Metabolite.

There are also hundreds of cases in state courts, she added, mostly in California where the companies are based.

The ephedra ban comes after the government determined that products containing ephedra present an unreasonable risk of illness or injury.

That determination, Abaray said, will make it easier to settle cases.

"The government's decision that ephedra is unsafe is a major finding that will help all plaintiffs, who have burden of proof," Abaray said.

The ban is overdue, she said.

The government has considered the product unsafe since February, when a medical examiner said an ephedra supplement was linked to the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, Abaray said.

"They did nothing for the last 10 months, except basically providing opportunities for ephedra companies to sell their remaining inventories.''


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