Maker of Norplant agrees to settle lawsuits by 36,000 women

7.54 p.m. ET (2357 GMT) August 26, 1999

By Amy Westfeldt, Associated Press

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) � The maker of Norplant will pay a reported $50 million-plus to more than 36,000 women to settle claims that the implantable contraceptive device caused headaches, irregular menstrual bleeding, nausea and depression.

American Home Products Corp., the parent of Norplant maker Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, called the move to end five years of litigation "purely a business decision." It did not admit any wrongdoing.

The company Thursday would not specify the amount of the settlement, but lawyers told The Dallas Morning News that American Home will pay $1,500 to every woman who sued before March 1, adding up to more than $54 million.

The settlement would resolve cases consolidated before a federal judge in Texas. It covers most of the thousands of lawsuits filed against Madison, N.J.-based American Home over Norplant. It does not cover claims by hundreds of other women who had different types of injuries, including scarring from having the implants removed.

American Home, which also makes Advil pain reliever and Robitussin cough medicine, also must contend with thousands of lawsuits by former users of the fen-phen diet-drug combination, which plaintiffs say caused heart valve damage and a potentially fatal lung disorder.

A New Brunswick, N.J., jury is now hearing the first class-action lawsuit over fen-phen to go to trial. Earlier this month, a Texas jury awarded more than $23 million to a woman who said the drug caused serious heart problems.

Analysts said that compared with the fen-phen litigation, which could force the company to pay billions, the Norplant settlement is insignificant.

The company has prevailed in most of its Norplant lawsuits, winning three verdicts, 20 summary judgments and the dismissal of about 14,000 claims. But Alex Zisson, an analyst with Hambrecht & Quist, said the company was wise to settle.

"When you pit a woman against a big corporation in front of a jury, anything can happen," he said.

The company's stock fell $1.81 1/4 to $46 a share on the New York Stock Exchange.

Norplant consists of six capsules inserted into the upper arm. They release a synthetic hormone into the bloodstream that prevents pregnancy for up to five years.

The plaintiffs said that American Home misled customers about the severity of Norplant's side effects, which include excessive menstrual bleeding, severe headaches, nausea, dizziness, mood swings and depression.

American Home Products and St. Davids, Pa.-based Wyeth-Ayerst consistently have denied wrongdoing and said the side effects were described in the product's labeling.

About 1 million American women and 5 million women worldwide have used Norplant. Annual U.S. sales peaked in 1992 at $120.7 million but slid to $4.4 million through November 1997.

Attorney Turner Branch, who negotiated the settlement for the plaintiffs, acknowledged that $1,500 is not a large award but said the women agreed to settle to "be done with it."

"Settling these cases was purely a business decision," Joseph M. Mahady, president of Wyeth-Ayerst, North America, said in a statement.

"Our legal success has come at a steep price because lawsuits are time-consuming, expensive and have a chilling effect on research," Mahady said. "Now that the courts have found these cases to be without merit, we can turn our attention back to providing contraceptive options for American women."

Go to Norplant Implants

Updated: October 8, 2001