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A month after being slapped with a $4.1 million personal injury verdict in Alabama, diet pill manufacturer Metabolife International recently found some better luck with a California jury. A Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., jury has ruled that the diet pill Metabolife 356 — the same pill involved in the Alabama case — was defective, but did not cause a man’s stroke four years ago that left him paralyzed and unable to work. Hendriksen v. Metabolife, No. RCV057282 (Rancho Cucamonga Co., Calif., Super. Ct.). As a result, no damages were awarded to the plaintiffs, Tom and Dena Hendriksen. But their lawyer said all was not lost. “We have a jury that says that the Metabolife product is not the safe product that Metabolife is representing to the world, that the risks outweigh the benefits,” said plaintiff’s counsel Christopher Grell of the Law Offices of Christopher E. Grell in San Francisco. “Metabolife knew all of this stuff and failed to represent this to the public,” he alleged. Metabolife lawyer Roy Brisbois of Los Angeles’ Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith declined to comment. Metabolife spokesperson Jan Strode said, “We are pleased that the jury agreed our product did not cause Mr. Hendriksen’s stroke.” This latest win for Metabolife follows a similar ruling in San Diego, where a federal court on Dec. 2 dismissed a plaintiff’s claim that he suffered a stroke as a consequence of taking Metabolife 356, according to court records. Blair v. Metabolife International Inc., the Chemins Co., No. 01-CV-1619 (S.D. Calif.). TWO DIFFERENT RESULTS According to Grell, the mixture of ephedrine and caffeine in the Metabolife 356 pill caused his client, a diabetic with high blood pressure, to have a stroke in August 1998. He said the bottle in 1998 had no warning label — current bottles have them — and Hendriksen’s doctor told him it was OK for him to take the pill. Similar claims were made in the Birmingham, Ala., case, McClain v. Metabolife International Inc., No. CV-01-BU-1801-S (N.D. Ala.), but the jury there ordered Metabolife to pay $4.1 million to four people who claimed they suffered strokes or heart attacks because they took the ephedra pills, according to court records. Metabolife will appeal the ruling. Metabolife also is facing an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department. In July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asked the Department of Justice to pursue a criminal investigation of Metabolife to see if they had made false statements to the FDA regarding the existence of adverse event reports. Since the investigation started, Metabolife has turned over about 15,000 consumer complaints to the FDA. Metabolife would not comment on the pending federal criminal investigation. Grell said that his biggest problem with the Metabolife 356 pill is that it is sold as a dietary supplement when it should, in his opinion, be sold as a drug. He bases that argument on a claim that ephedrine — a common ingredient in many diet pills — is unsafe. It is the synthetic version of ephedra, which is extracted from the Chinese ma huang root. The FDA has reported that some of the adverse effects of ephedra products include hypertension and rapid heart rate. Adverse effects can include heart attack, stroke, seizure and even death.

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