LAWSUIT OVER VETERINARY DRUG SETTLED
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - Johns Island, South Carolina
Jean Townsend of Johns Island, South Carolina announced today that a settlement has been reached with Pfizer, Inc. in what appears to be the first lawsuit of its kind in this country - a lawsuit over injuries that led to the death of Ms. Townsend's chocolate lab, George. Ms. Townsend originally brought a class action lawsuit against Pfizer in October of 1999, two years after the tragic death of George. The lawsuit alleged that after initial approval by the FDA, the drug RimadylŪ, which was the subject of an unprecedented multi-million dollar advertising campaign, was marketed without a complete understanding of the serious side-effects that could result from the drug. Ms. Townsend also alleged that neither she nor her vet were adequately warned of the potential side-effects. After administering the drug for only 14 days, George developed severe internal bleeding and ultimately liver failure. George was euthanized on October 13, 1997. In reaching the settlement, Pfizer has admitted no wrong-doing.
"It was truly horrible," said Townsend of the experience. "But the most troubling aspect of the ordeal was when I later learned that similar side-effects had been reported to Pfizer and the FDA months before I first gave the drug to my dog. Yet even after my pet became sick, I continued to give him the pills because they were supposed to make him feel better. I had no idea that he was suffering from the side-effects of RimadylŪ. It is devastating to live with the realization that I gave my beloved pet medicine to help him when, in fact, it was killing him." After reporting George's death to Pfizer, Ms. Townsend was offered a $249.33 settlement, but the offer came with the condition that the settlement remain confidential. Ms. Townsend refused.
In the months following George's death, Ms. Townsend began researching this drug on the internet and soon discovered dozens of other pet owners who had similar experiences with RimadylŪ. Fueled by the growing number of people whose dogs had become sick or died after taking the drug, Ms. Townsend, along with other concerned pet owners, started a campaign to raise awareness of the potential for serious side-effects with this and other veterinary medicines. As part of that campaign, Ms. Townsend and others met with FDA officials as well as Pfizer veterinarians, urging them to step-up efforts to more thoroughly inform pet owners of the potential for serious side-effects with veterinary medicines.
Unsatisfied with the response of the FDA and Pfizer, Ms. Townsend turned to the legal system and filed a class-action lawsuit. In her suit, Ms. Townsend sought reimbursement of the $734.00 in veterinary expenses she had incurred trying to save George, as well as establishing a class action on behalf of the hundreds of other dog owners whose pets had become ill or died.
In the meantime, reports of adverse reactions to RimadylŪ continued to rise, and in 1998, RimadylŪ accounted for almost 39% of all Adverse Drug Experience Reports received by the FDA.1 The reports were so numerous that in December of 1999, the FDA took the extraordinary step of issuing a public statement on the drug.
Within months of Ms. Townsend's suit and the "Update on RimadylŪ" issued by the FDA, Pfizer announced significant changes in packaging, and that it would begin dispensing a Client Information Sheet to be included with veterinary prescriptions of RimadylŪ. The Client Information Sheet, modeled after similar drug information sheets included with many human drugs, was to provide pet owners with easily understandable information about the potential side-effects and what to do if side-effects occur.
Ms. Townsend reports that as part of the settlement, Pfizer made cash offers to over 300 other dog owners across the country to settle claims for death or injury to the dog, veterinary expenses, property damage, emotional distress and punitive damages. These individual offers averaged over $1000.00 per animal and did not include a confidentiality provision.
Speaking about the lawsuit and the settlement, Ms. Townsend said, "I am pleased that through this suit, hundreds of other pet owners will be reimbursed for veterinary expenses and the loss of their pets. Of course, no amount of money would ever replace the loss of my friend George, and the loss of so many other beloved companions." But to Ms. Townsend, (who donated her settlement proceeds to a local veterinarian to perform surgery on a pet whose owners could not afford the surgery) the issue is far more than the money paid by Pfizer. It is the growing public awareness that the medications we give our pets can have serious side-effects. "We, as pet owners, have the right to know as much about the good and bad sides of veterinary medicines as we do the medicines we give ourselves."
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