November 24, 2003 - 'Fen-Phen' Trust Seeks to Toss Claims

A trust overseeing payments to people injured by the recalled "fen-phen" diet drug has asked a judge to disqualify claims from patients whose alleged heart problems were detected by a company that did its diagnostic tests in hotel rooms and lawyers' offices.

The American Home Products Settlement Trust said the company, EchoMotion, of Chapel Hill, N.C., was set up specifically to help class-action lawyers determine whether prospective clients qualified for a share of the $3.75 billion settlement. They state that EchoMotion technicians performed between 60,000 and 75,000 echocardiograms on people who took the drugs Pondimin and Redux that were not supervised by a certified cardiologist or cardiothorcic surgeon as was required by the settlement. There were also statements made of at least one law firm pressuring the technicians to overestimate the degree of valve malfunction.

Earlier this year, a federal judge found some claims had been improperly prepared causing the trust to begin auditing applications. A lawsuit was brought in September against a Kansas City-area cardiologist, alleging that she diagnosed thousands of people as being ill without properly examining them. This new request is the latest steps taken by trust officials to separate a large number of false claims that they say have been filed by dishonest attorneys in an attempt to profit from people who aren't sick.

In response, several firms representing diet drug plaintiffs have accused the trust of unnecessarily delaying payments to people with real injuries, stating the trust's real goal is to protect a fund that has turned out to be far too small: "The trust was set up to compensate 6,000 or 7,000 people at the most, and you now have 83,000 people who have signed up. [We] don't think they can have any idea how they can legitimately keep this trust from going bankrupt, unless they put in billions more dollars."


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