Contact lens maker Bausch & Lomb Inc. has settled close to 600 fungal-infection lawsuits. As you may recall, the company went private in 2007 in an effort to handle a devastating recall of MoistureLoc, its flagship lens cleaner. Over the past year – away from the glare of public scrutiny – the optical products company attempted to settle these lawsuits without being monitored in a court of law. While it was largely successful, there are still dozens of individual claims yet to be resolved. The cost of the settlements thus far is more than $250 million. It’s estimated the lens cleaner debacle could wind up costing the company as much as $500 million.
More than 700 lens wearers in the United States and Asia were exposed to a potentially blinding infection known as Fusarium keratitis while using ReNu with MoistureLoc, a new-formula multipurpose solution for cleaning, storing and moistening soft contact lenses. The damage was irreparable in some instances. For example, seven people in Florida, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Tennessee and West Virginia had to have an eye removed. At least 60 more Americans needed vision-saving corneal transplants. There have been a number of incidents where the victims’ eye problems ended careers.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 180 cases in 35 states from June 2005 through September 2006, when the agency’s dedicated surveillance stopped, according to Dr. Benjamin Park, a CDC epidemiologist. In an interview, Dr. Park told USA Today that the CDC continued to hear of sporadic, unconfirmed cases in the months after MoistureLoc was withdrawn from the market in April of 2006. Victims typically complained of eye irritation that progressed to a sudden onset of searing pain. Many were mistakenly treated with antibiotics and steroids — a delayed diagnosis that worsened the condition – and by the time the real problem was discovered, in many cases, the damage was already done.
Dr. Arthur Epstein, who was chairman of the American Optometric Association’s contact lens and cornea section during the highly-publicized crisis, had this to say in an interview with USA Today:
The truth has been very carefully buried, and it appears to have been buried going back to the beginnings of the outbreak. All settlements were predicated on silence about the clinical findings and blame and so forth. My hope was that what actually happened would become part of public record in a courtroom. That way, we’d be able to learn from it and move on and make sure it never happened again.
While Bausch & Lomb told USA Today that it has settled “the vast majority of fungal infection cases,” the company is defending another 500-plus lawsuits where it is alleged that MoistureLoc is linked to assorted bacterial, viral and parasitic afflictions. A pretrial hearing was held last month in New York. Orders from the court may well establish that there’s a reliable scientific basis for the Plaintiffs’ allegations. Bausch & Lomb was acquired by private equity firm Warburg Pincus for $3.67 billion in October 2007. If you need more information contact Chad Cook at 800-898-2034 or by email at Chad.Cook@beasleyallen.com.
Source: USA Today
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