For the third time in three years, a jury has awarded at least $1 million in punitive damages against A. H. Robins Co. in a lawsuit brought by a wearer of the Dalkon Shield intrauterine contraceptive device, which the Richmond pharmaceutical manufacturer sold from 1971 through mid-1974.
The award--for $1.5 million--was returned in St. Paul, Minn., June 6 after a 58-day trial. Robins said it will ask U.S. District Judge Donald D. Alsop to set aside the award and will appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals if he does not.
The other punitive awards are being appealed. They were for $6.2 million in Denver, Colo., in July 1980 and for $1 million in Miami, Fla., in February 1982. In the Florida case, however, the judge reduced the award to $500,000.
As of last Dec. 31, Robins and its product-liability insurer, Aetna Life & Casualty, together had paid out approximately $130 million to dispose of about 5,100 claims and cases, for an average of $25,490, Robins said in its annual report. Still pending were about 3,300 additional claims and cases.
Robins distributed an estimated 4.7 million shields in nearly 60 countries. It halted domestic sales in June 1974 at the request of the Food and Drug Administration following numerous reports of fatal septic abortions. Robins' counsel told the jury that the shield is a "safe and effective" device.
In addition to the $1.5 million punitive damages in the St. Paul case, the jury awarded $250,000 to Mrs. Brenda Strempke, 35, of Little Falls, Minn., to compensate for infection-caused injuries claimed to have impaired the fertility of the childless plaintiff.
As in other cases, the infection was attributed by her attorneys to the unique nylon "tail string" of the shield. The string was made of hundreds of filaments enclosed in a sheath that was open at both ends, in contrast to monofilament strings used on other IUDs. The lawyers argued that the string deteriorates after long periods in the body, providing inner pathways for infection-causing bacteria to climb from the vagina and cervix into the normally sterile uterus where the device is implanted.
Robins said that it "is disappointed by the verdict and believes that the evidence as presented shows that the Dalkon Shield was not defective and that the company was not negligent in its manufacture or marketing of the device."
In the final days of the trial, Strempke learned that a test indicated her to be pregnant and notified her attorneys; they, in turn, told the jury. One of the lawyers said that the pregnancy appears to be precarious.