A federal jury in Alexandria yesterday found that Eli Lilly and Co. was not responsible for the death of a Virginia man who died of severe liver damage in 1982 after taking the controversial arthritis drug, Oraflex.
The family of Lester E. Wolfrey, who died in the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville, had sued the pharmaceutical manufacturer for $175 million, claiming that Oraflex had caused Wolfrey's death. He was 51 at the time.
"The jury's verdict confirms our position that Oraflex did not cause Mr. Wolfrey's death," said Lilly's manager for corporate communications, Edward West. Lilly lawyers had argued during the four-day trial that Wolfrey died from a combination of excessive alcohol and other pain-killers he took after ending his Oraflex treatment.
Last month Lilly pleaded guilty to criminal charges of failing to notify the government of numerous deaths and injuries among overseas users of Oraflex during the period the company was seeking approval for the drug from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Indianapolis-based firm was fined $25,000.
The company sold Oraflex for 2 1/2 months in 1982 before it was withdrawn from the market. During that time, 26 people died from liver or kidney failure, according to the Justice Department.
Wolfrey, who suffered from arthritis, took Oraflex for a month and a half while under his physician's care. Three weeks after he stopped the medication, he developed severe abdominal pains and died 24 hours after being admitted to the hospital, the suit said.
The verdict, returned after four hours of deliberation, is only the second in numerous Oraflex suits filed against the company. In an earlier suit a federal jury in Columbus, Ga., awarded $6 million to the family of an 81-year-old woman who died after taking Oraflex. Lilly later settled that suit while the case was on appeal.