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In Philadelphia’s largest fen-phen verdict to date, a jury found pharmaceutical manufacturer Wyeth liable for $2.5 million in damages Tuesday, saying the company should compensate three women who alleged their heart-valve injuries were caused by taking the diet drug Pondimin. The verdict came at the conclusion of the liability phase of a reverse-bifurcated trial that began last week before Common Pleas Senior Judge Alfred J. DiBona Jr. and lasted five days. The six jurors deliberated for 10 minutes, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said. The trial’s first phase concluded Dec. 22 when the jury — then seven strong — awarded $1.25 million to plaintiff Susan B. Rives of Keswick, Va.; $750,000 to Lorraine Gordon of Harrisonburg, Va.; and $500,000 to Sonia Jones of Oxon Hill, Md. The three cases, Rives v. Wyeth, Gordon v. Wyeth and Jones v. Wyeth, were coordinated for trial. The jury began with eight members but dwindled to six by the end of phase two. The judge excused one juror for medical reasons and the other because she admitted to talking about the case outside the jury room, said Michael J. Miller, who represented the three plaintiffs with Christopher A. Gomez. Both attorneys practice at Miller & Associates in Alexandria, Va. Wyeth was represented during phase one by Richard “Rip” Sullivan and phase two by George E. McDavid. Both attorneys practice at Reed Smith. Wyeth said in a statement it would pursue post-trial motions and, “if necessary, will appeal the verdicts.” Most of the Philadelphia judges presiding over the fen-phen trials have severed the trials into two phases and reversed their traditional order. Thus, juries have decided the damages owed to a plaintiff before deciding whether the defendant was liable. To date, only one other fen-phen jury in Philadelphia has gone through the second phase of a reverse-bifurcated trial. A jury last fall found Wyeth liable for a $2.135 million judgment awarded to four plaintiffs. Ten fen-phen trials have gone to verdict since the trials began in July, according to the Complex Litigation Center. Many others were settled before or during trial — often after the jury awarded damages in the first phase. The diet-drug compound fen-phen was pulled from the market in 1997 after doctors found that the drugs likely caused heart-valve problems in some patients. Rives, 42, Gordon, 46, and Jones, 50, all took Pondimin (fenfluramine) for a period of months in 1996, said Miller, whose firm has 1,600 fen-phen cases pending in Philadelphia. During the liability phase, Miller presented an expert who said Wyeth should have heeded 35 reports of valvular heart disease in Belgium. Had they done so, the diet drugs would have come off the market sooner, he said. Another medical expert testified that had sufficient warnings accompanied the diet drugs, reasonable doctors wouldn’t have continued to use them to treat obesity, Miller said. Michael Scott of Reed Smith, lead counsel for Wyeth locally, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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