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Lawsuit Involving Breast Cancer Allegedly Caused by DES Settled by Eli Lilly

January 24, 2013

The settlement this week of a case against Eli Lilly involving breast cancer allegedly caused by taking diethylstilbestrol (DES) may lead to settlement of many similar pending cases against the manufacturers of the drug.

Four sisters who developed breast cancer brought the lawsuit based on allegations that their breast cancer was caused by their mother taking DES during pregnancy during the 1950s.

DES was prescribed to millions of pregnant women over the span of three decades to prevent pre-mature births, miscarriage and other conditions. Because the drug DES was not patented, it was manufactured by a range of companies. The drug was recalled during the 1970s after it was determined that it was ineffective at preventing miscarriages and caused a rare type of vaginal cancer. The plaintiffs in the Eli Lilly suit alleged that the company did not adequately conduct testing regarding the safety of the drug on unborn fetuses prior to marketing the drug to prevent expectant mothers from having miscarriages.

The sisters who were plaintiffs in the recently settled DES product liability case also experienced other medical conditions that are alleged to be side effects of DES, including problems with their reproductive tract, miscarriages and fertility issues. There have been thousands of lawsuits filed by those who have suffered similar adverse side effects like cervical cancer and fertility problems that have previously been settled. This is the first settlement of the DES breast cancer cases and may lead to a wave of additional settlements.

Defective drug cases like this one can be extremely complex for a variety of reasons, such as:

Proving Causation: Extensive medical studies may need to be reviewed and analyzed to establish a causal link between the drug and harmful side effects. Sometimes the link between adverse side effects and a dangerous drug will have resulted in a black box warning by the FDA or recall of the unsafe drug.

Establishing Manufacturer Identity: Because many companies produced DES, the process of establishing which company distributed the drug to the plaintiff can be complex. Market share liability provides a legal theory for imposing liability when multiple companies have distributed a drug so a plaintiff is unable to prove the company from which he or she received the drug. The lawsuit that established this theory of liability was a California case, Sindell vs. Abbot Laboratories, and the case involved DES. The court allowed liability to be apportioned among the companies that distributed DES based on their share of the market. This principle was refined by a Wisconsin case, Collins v. Eli Lilly Co., which again involved injuries caused by DES. Collins approved bringing a claim against a single drug company and shifting the burden of proof to the drug company to establish it did not distribute the drug to the plaintiff.

Distinguishing Other Causes: Because there may be many causes of cancer, infertility and other medical conditions that are side effects of dangerous drugs, it may be difficult to establish that the medication actually caused injury or death. Drug companies will claim that other factors rather than the pharmaceutical were responsible for an injury victim's medical condition.

Lapse of Time: As the recently settled case reveals, decades may pass between taking a dangerous pharmaceutical and the onset of harmful effects, which makes it difficult to prove causation.

If you believe you have developed breast cancer, cervical cancer, reproductive tract problems or suffered miscarriages that may be linked to maternal use of DES, we invite you to speak to one of our Georgia products liability attorneys. Montlick and Associates is available to provide effective legal representation to clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Personal Injury

Please Note:
All information provided by our blogs is general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Consult a Montlick attorney for details about your unique situation.