OVER VETERINARY DRUG SETTLED
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Johns Island, South Carolina - August 18, 2004
Jean Townsend of Johns Island, South Carolina announced today that a
settlement has been reached with Pfizer, Inc. in what appears to be the first
lawsuit of its kind in this country – a lawsuit over injuries that led to
the death of Ms. Townsend's chocolate lab, George. Ms. Townsend
originally brought a class action lawsuit against Pfizer in October of 1999,
two years after the tragic death of George. The lawsuit alleged that
after initial approval by the FDA, the drug Rimadyl®, which was the subject
of an unprecedented multi-million dollar advertising campaign, was marketed
without a complete understanding of the serious side-effects that could result
from the drug. Ms. Townsend also alleged that neither she nor her vet
were adequately warned of the potential side-effects. After
administering the drug for only 14 days, George developed severe internal
bleeding and ultimately liver failure. George was euthanized on October
13, 1997. In reaching the settlement, Pfizer has admitted no
"It was truly horrible," said Townsend of the experience.
"But the most troubling aspect of the ordeal was when I later learned
that similar side-effects had been reported to Pfizer and the FDA months
before I first gave the drug to my dog. Yet even after my pet became
sick, I continued to give him the pills because they were supposed to make him
feel better. I had no idea that he was suffering from the side-effects
of Rimadyl®. It is devastating to live with the realization that I gave
my beloved pet medicine to help him when, in fact, it was killing him."
After reporting George's death to Pfizer, Ms. Townsend was offered a $249.33
settlement, but the offer came with the condition that the settlement remain
confidential. Ms. Townsend refused.
In the months following George's death, Ms. Townsend began researching this
drug on the internet and soon discovered dozens of other pet owners who had
similar experiences with Rimadyl®. Fueled by the growing number of
people whose dogs had become sick or died after taking the drug, Ms. Townsend,
along with other concerned pet owners, started a campaign to raise awareness
of the potential for serious side-effects with this and other veterinary
medicines. As part of that campaign, Ms. Townsend and others met with
FDA officials as well as Pfizer veterinarians, urging them to step-up efforts
to more thoroughly inform pet owners of the potential for serious side-effects
with veterinary medicines.
Unsatisfied with the response of the FDA and Pfizer, Ms. Townsend turned to
the legal system and filed a class-action lawsuit. In her suit, Ms.
Townsend sought reimbursement of the $734.00 in veterinary expenses she had
incurred trying to save George, as well as establishing a class action on
behalf of the hundreds of other dog owners whose pets had become ill or died.
In the meantime, reports of adverse reactions to Rimadyl® continued to rise,
and in 1998, Rimadyl® accounted for almost 39% of all Adverse Drug Experience
Reports received by the FDA. The reports were so numerous that in
December of 1999, the FDA took the extraordinary step of issuing a public
statement on the drug.
Within months of Ms. Townsend's suit and the "Update on Rimadyl®"
issued by the FDA, Pfizer announced significant changes in packaging, and that
it would begin dispensing a Client Information Sheet to be included with
veterinary prescriptions of Rimadyl®. The Client Information Sheet,
modeled after similar drug information sheets included with many human drugs,
was to provide pet owners with easily understandable information about the
potential side-effects and what to do if side-effects occur.
Ms. Townsend reports that as part of the settlement, Pfizer made cash offers
to over 300 other dog owners across the country to settle claims for death or
injury to the dog, veterinary expenses, property damage, emotional distress
and punitive damages. These individual offers averaged over $1000.00 per
animal and did not include a confidentiality provision.
Speaking about the lawsuit and the settlement, Ms. Townsend said, "I am
pleased that through this suit, hundreds of other pet owners will be
reimbursed for veterinary expenses and the loss of their pets. Of
course, no amount of money would ever replace the loss of my friend George,
and the loss of so many other beloved companions."
But to Ms. Townsend, (who donated her settlement proceeds to a local
veterinarian to perform surgery on a pet whose owners could not afford the
surgery) the issue is far more than the money paid by Pfizer. It is the
growing public awareness that the medications we give our pets can have
serious side-effects. "We, as pet owners, have the right to know as
much about the good and bad sides of veterinary medicines as we do the
medicines we give ourselves."