Attorneys from Dallas’ Heygood, Orr & Pearson are announcing a Los Angeles Superior Court ruling that will require executives from Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NYSE: WPI) and their subsidiary companies to testify under oath and produce key documents as part of a lawsuit over the death of a 37-year-old woman who died while using the company’s fentanyl patch.
Attorney Michael Heygood represents the parents of Nicole Bristol, who died on Feb. 9, 2008, hours after applying a fentanyl patch manufactured by Corona, Calif.-based Watson. Fentanyl is a powerful narcotic painkiller that is often applied by a time-released adhesive patch. The drug is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and often prescribed for chronic pain.
In the Los Angeles lawsuit, Monika Standing, et al. v. Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc., et al., No. BC-405990, Ms. Bristol’s parents say their daughter suffered a lethal overdose as a result of a defective Watson fentanyl patch. Although the package insert in Ms. Bristol’s prescription said she should have received 1.7 ng/ml of fentanyl, autopsy results showed that she died with 15 ng/ml of fentanyl in her system. Fentanyl has been found to be lethal at a blood level of 3 ng/ml, with an average lethal concentration of 8 ng/ml.
The lawsuit says Watson officials used a faulty and unsafe “reservoir” design that is subject to manufacturing errors and can allow lethal amounts of the drug to leak onto a patient’s skin. Although many competing companies utilize a “matrix” design that makes leaks impossible, Watson continues to use the “reservoir” design despite several recalls of Watson fentanyl patches and numerous lawsuits over related deaths around the country.
In the Bristol the lawsuit, Watson has consistently objected to the family’s requests for the company’s executives, representatives and employees to testify under oath about its fentanyl products and to produce documents related to its manufacturing processes and related problems in the production of the Watson pain patch.
“With this court order, we will finally be able to see the key documents and get answers to important questions we’ve been waiting to ask for more than a year,” says Mr. Heygood, lead counsel for the Bristol family. “This company should have to answer for making a product that we believe is the sole reason Ms. Bristol isn’t here today.
The ruling signed March 11, 2011, by Judge Richard E. Rico orders Watson to produce company documents and emails requested by Mr. Heygood and other attorneys for the Bristol family by April 11, and for the company to make employees and corporate representatives available for depositions between April 11 and June 11.
“We are hopeful that this ruling finally convinces Watson Pharmaceuticals to take seriously the many deaths around the country related to their fentanyl patches, like the death of Nicole Bristol” says Mr. Heygood.
In 2007, Mr. Heygood and fellow firm attorney Jim Orr helped the family of a Florida man win a $5.5 million verdict in the nation’s first federal trial over a defective fentanyl patch. The following year, the two attorneys won a $16.5 million verdict in Chicago, Illinois for the family of a mother of three who died while using a fentanyl patch.