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special to the national law journal A class action on behalf of tens of thousands of hemophiliacs worldwide has been filed in California against several American companies accused of selling contaminated blood products that allegedly caused HIV infections, hepatitis C infections or both. None of the plaintiffs lives in the United States, a fact that promises a tough battle over jurisdiction and class action status. “The defendants will argue for non conveniens,” said attorney Robert Nelson, whose San Francisco firm, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, is representing the plaintiffs. “The defendants will say these cases should be brought in their country, where they were injured. “But we’re going to argue, ‘Look, these are American companies that manufactured the product, that marketed the product and that profited enormously from the sale of the product worldwide.’ “ The defendants include Bayer Corp. in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and Baxter Healthcare Corp. and its Hyland Pharmaceutical division in Deerfield, Ill. Gullone v. Bayer Corp., No. C032572 (N.D. Calif.). Those two defendants were also named in a similar nationwide class action in 1995 involving American hemophiliacs who were infected with the AIDS virus and sued drug companies that manufactured blood solids. In that suit, In the Matter of Rhone-Poulenc Rorer Inc., 51 F.3d 1293 (7th Cir. 1995), the defendants in 1996 agreed to a $600 million settlement, according to Nelson. The older lawsuit should have ended the issue, said Deborah Spak, spokeswoman for Baxter Healthcare, a defendant in both the current and older lawsuit. “These incidents occurred more than 20 years ago and have been very well known.” Allegations of infected products In the new suit, the plaintiffs allege that American companies intentionally sold blood factor concentrate-a plasma-derived liquid solution used to treat hemophilia-that they knew or should have known to be infected with the agents that cause AIDS and hepatitis C. The blood products were known as Factor VIII and Factor IX concentrates. The plaintiffs include hemophiliacs from the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy. According to Nelson, most of the plaintiffs became infected with HIV or hepatitis C in the early 1980s. He argues that, starting in the late 1970s, technology that destroyed the viruses existed, but that the defendants failed to use these methods until 1984. The complaint alleges that the defendants recruited donors from the highest-risk populations, including prisoners and intravenous drug users. “We really, emphatically deny any wrongdoing or misconduct,” said Bayer spokeswoman Tricia McKernan. “The claims being made right now are using the knowledge of today to judge actions of the past, and every decision that was made at that time was made using the best scientific knowledge at the time, and very much consistent with all medical and scientific knowledge and regulatory requirements.” McKernan said Bayer is currently assembling a legal team to handle the lawsuit, and would not comment on any specifics of the case. Meanwhile, Spak said Baxter has payed out hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements to American hemophiliacs over the last two decades. She would not comment on the specifics of the suit, beyond denying that Baxter intentionally sold a contaminated product. Representatives for two other defendants, Alpha Therapeutic Corp. of Los Angeles and Armour Pharmaceutical Co. of Collegeville, Pa., could not be reached for comment.

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