Texas lawyer will mediate suits against drug makers

Sunday, September 29, 2002

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A Texas lawyer experienced in high-profile cases will mediate between two drug makers and cancer patients suing them over pharmacist Robert Courtney's drug dilution scheme.

Susan S. Soussan has mediated thousands of lawsuits in the past two decades, including a $480 million settlement from Exxon Corp.'s insurers, led by Lloyd's of London, to pay for the cleanup of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

Soussan, who practices in Houston, was selected after Senior Jackson County Circuit Judge Lee Wells on Wednesday asked the parties to submit the lawsuits to mediation.

Soussan confirmed Friday that she had been asked to mediate, but she declined to discuss the cases. Soussan said she would meet with the parties on Monday.

Wells has postponed until Tuesday a hearing on summary judgment motions filed by defendants Eli Lilly and Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. The drug makers want the lawsuits thrown out.

In a separate criminal proceeding, Courtney pleaded guilty in February to 20 counts of tampering with chemotherapy drugs that he prepared at his Kansas City pharmacy to fill doctors' prescriptions. He is scheduled to be sentenced in December and faces up to 30 years in prison.

Hundreds of civil lawsuits have also been filed against Courtney and the two pharmaceutical manufacturers by cancer patients and their families.

The lawsuits allege that the drug companies knew or should have known that Courtney was diluting their drugs but did nothing to stop him. The companies have denied the allegations.

Could amount to billions

Although the plaintiffs haven't specified damages in the civil suits against Lilly and Squibb, collectively they could amount to billions of dollars. The defendants have maintained that they had no way of knowing Courtney was improperly diluting drugs.

The first of the cases, brought by ovarian cancer patient Georgia Hayes, is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 7.

On Friday, Wells said he requested mediation on the drug makers' liability because "it never hurts."

"Sometimes you can have dramatic results," he said. "The parties could have opted out and they didn't, so that means they were willing to give it a try."

Wells said he waited to suggest mediation because most of the discovery in the Hayes case had been completed.

"It sounds like it's way, way too late, but they've been doing such intensive discovery on this that I really didn't think they were ready to talk turkey until they got that done," Wells said.

Grant Davis, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, said that if Monday's mediation session proves unsuccessful, the plaintiffs are ready to go forward with jury selection on Thursday.

Soussan handles arbitration and mediation exclusively. She was appointed to the Harris County, Texas, civil district court in 1994 by Gov. Ann Richards to fill a vacancy, but lost her seat later that year during a Republican sweep of the Texas judiciary.

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