Missoula Woman Awarded $3.2 Million in Drugmaker Trial

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – A Missoula jury on Wednesday awarded $3.2 million to a woman suing the maker of a bone-strengthening drug in a decision that could have a bearing on hundreds of cases against the company nationwide.

Peggy L. Stevens, 57, of Missoula filed suit against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., alleging the company should have disclosed health risks associated with the bone-strengthening drug called Zometa.

Stevens developed dental and jaw-related problems after taking the drug for several years.

Stevens’ attorneys said the company knew patients taking Zometa were vulnerable to a degenerative jaw disorder called osteonecrosis, particularly those patients who undergo invasive dental procedures. Symptoms include pain, loosening of teeth, exposed bone and infection.

Novartis faces lawsuits from approximately 550 plaintiffs whose cases have been consolidated in a Tennessee federal court and a New Jersey state court.

“I think it will have a huge significance,” said Terry Trieweiler, a Missoula attorney representing Stevens. “The basic facts regarding Novartis’ conduct are the same in every case. In terms of Novartis’ failure to adequately warn doctors, those facts are now fairly well established.”

The lawsuit alleged that Stevens’ condition is incurable and will result in lifelong disability. Novartis downplayed the drug’s risks, and obscured and delayed the release of information to the public and the medical community to save a public relations problem, Trieweiler said.

The jury awarded Stevens $822,000 in lost income. The rest of the verdict compensates Stevens for pain, emotional suffering and the alteration to her normal course of life.

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