Diluted drugs victims want civil suit reopened
Friday, March 16, 2012
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Several of those who agreed to a 2002 settlement with two pharmaceutical companies over the dilution of cancer drugs by a Kansas City pharmacist have asked a judge to reopen the civil case, believing they were unfairly compensated and the settlement was legally flawed.
Lawyers representing 23 parties recently asked a Jackson County judge to reopen the case involving pharmacist Robert Courtney and throw out more than $70 million in settlements paid by Eli Lilly Co. and Bristol Myers-Squibb Co., whose cancer drugs Courtney diluted, The Kansas City Star reported Friday (http://bit.ly/wOLk16 ).
Courtney, 59, pleaded guilty in 2002 to adulterating cancer drugs he prepared for 34 cancer patients between March and June 2001. He later admitted that he diluted chemotherapy drugs since at least 1992 and had diluted many other drugs.
The scheme made Courtney rich but he forfeited most of his $8 million to $12 million in assets to the government and is serving a 30-year prison sentence.
After Courtney’s arrest, hundreds of Kansas City-area cancer patients or family members of patients who died sued Courtney and the pharmaceutical makers. They contended that the drug companies were negligent in failing to uncover Courtney’s scheme.
The companies denied the charges but agreed in October 2002 to settle the claims for an undisclosed amount. The Star reported later that the settlement totaled $72.1 million.
Now, the 23 parties want a Jackson County judge to void the settlement because it violated Missouri law, said William S. Ohlemeyer, one of several lawyers involved in the case.
“This will allow them to reopen the litigation and allow them to pursue the full value of their claims,” Ohlemeyer said.
It also could expose the two pharmaceutical companies to having to make much higher payouts, lawyers said.
Judge Charles Atwell has not made any rulings but could set a hearing on the issue for late March or early April, according to Jackson County Circuit Court records.
Carla Cox, an Eli Lilly spokeswoman, said the company has always maintained that it had nothing to do with Courtney’s crimes.
“Lilly believes that the original civil settlement, in October 2002, was handled fairly and in accordance with all laws,” Cox said.
A Bristol Myers spokesman declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Some of Courtney’s victims have never been happy with the settlement. In 2003, the family of Rita Tilzer sued in Kansas federal court, alleging that the law firms pressured them into agreeing to a $308,000 settlement. The suit also alleged that the lawyers failed to pursue the family’s claims competently and engaged in conflicts of interest and self-dealing.
The law firms denied the charges, and the federal judge threw out the case on technical grounds.
The family refiled the action in Johnson County District Court. In 2010, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered a Johnson County judge to reconsider the case, which remains open.
The state Supreme Court also said that the structure of the settlement appeared to violate Missouri law.
Throughout the litigation, the Tilzers have sought to open the settlement to public scrutiny. Judges have consistently held that they are bound by protective orders signed by Lee Wells, the original Jackson County judge who heard the case.
The Kansas high court directed the family back to Missouri courts.
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com