May 11, 2009 - Pfizer Called to Hearing to Answer Charges
A Superior Court judge has signed an application by a West Haven attorney, ordering Pfizer Inc. to a hearing regarding allegations Pfizer representatives are circumventing attorneys for Nigerian children who died after an experimental drug test.
Judge Angela C. Robinson signed lawyer Richard Altschuler's application for a hearing, seeking a temporary injunction against the Pfizer officials. The session will be held in Robinson's courtroom June 1.
The move is the latest development in Altschuler's seven-year legal battle on behalf of the Nigerian victims and their survivors. The children were given the Pfizer drug Trovan in a Nigerian hospital during a 1996 meningitis epidemic. According to Altschuler, up to 34 youngsters died during the trial, and 20 others were severely disabled.
Pfizer officials have maintained the clinical trial helped save lives and was conducted properly. They said the deaths resulted from diseases the children had already contracted before being given the drug.
Altschuler filed his original lawsuit in Connecticut because he alleged the "immoral drug test" was planned at Pfizer's research and development headquarters in Groton and New London.
Altschuler's new writ, with supporting affidavits, charged Pfizer intended to sign a legal settlement today in London, which is "oppressive, coerced, deceptive" and violates the victims' rights. The writ alleges the proposed settlement would also violate the rights of the victims' attorneys, Altschuler and his Nigerian counterpart, Etigwe Uwa, because they were not allowed to participate in settlement negotiations.
Altschuler's motion seeks to halt the settlement.
"We're trying to get the negotiations out of the dark," Altschuler said. "If this settlement goes through, my victims will get victimized again."
Altschuler is outraged by news reports out of Nigeria that the proposed settlement calls for Pfizer to pay $10 million each to the federal Nigerian government, the Nigerian state government and Nigerian government lawyers. Meanwhile, the victims would be paid $35 million, which would equal only about $175,000 for each of the approximately 200 victims.
Altschuler alleged in his writ that the settlement negotiations have been "secret, unfair, deceptive and oppressive."
He noted his clients are uneducated and in some cases illiterate. Thus, they are in a weak bargaining position without their attorneys. According to Altschuler, Pfizer is trying to get the victims to sign releases against future claims "under duress or coercion."
Altschuler charged Pfizer is trying to undermine the victims' lawsuit in Connecticut.
He also alleged Pfizer is motivated to pay a large settlement to Nigerian government lawyers because the government has filed criminal charges against former Pfizer employees. He charged this appeared to be a "quid pro quo" to influence that government.
Pfizer officials have not seen Altschuler's writ, so they could not respond in detail. But Pfizer spokesman Christopher Loder issued this statement: "We are extremely disappointed that one of the plaintiffs' lawyers filed a new legal action in Connecticut without notice to Pfizer and without providing the company an opportunity to be heard."
Loder added, "The plaintiffs have grossly misrepresented the situation to the court. The fact is that the cases filed by purported study participants in the U.S. are separate and distinct from the Kano State and Nigerian federal government cases filed in Nigeria, which the company has sought to settle for many months."
Loder concluded, "The U.S. lawyers' complaints about interference with their cases are unfounded. Instead, their own actions constitute interference with Pfizer's negotiations in Nigeria, where these lawyers are not involved."
But one of the affidavits Altschuler attached to his writ, by Zubairu Shaba of the Trovan Test Victims Forum, asserted Pfizer's settlement offers to the victims were made "without involving their lawyers and in an effort to undermine and overreach the cases pending in America."
Shaba concluded, "I believe that Pfizer is using undue pressure and other tactics to force the victims to accept their terms without recourse to the advice of their lawyers."
A Nigerian attorney working with Altschuler, Olayinka Olajuwon, said in his affidavit, "The case would have an infinitely higher value in the U.S. and would be in front of an open court." He said punitive damages as well as compensatory damages could be sought in a U.S. court.