The Oklahoma Court of Appeals has upheld a $15 million jury verdict in favor of a medical doctor in her Botox lawsuit against Allergan Inc. The Plaintiff, Sharla Helton, suffered debilitating side effects from receiving an injection of the company’s Botox treatment. The court said the Plaintiff met her burden of proof at trial to show Botox caused her injuries. The appeals panel said Dr. Helton presented adequate evidence to the jury to show that an injection of Allergan’s Botox product caused her to develop botulism poisoning. Dr. Helton, an obstetrician and gynecologist, alleged that she developed double vision, breathing difficulties, and joint and muscle pain from the poisoning. She eventually was forced to quit her job as the medical director at an Oklahoma women’s hospital.
The appellate court’s decision upheld the verdict in its entirety, with no reduction. It was alleged in the suit that Dr. Helton received Botox injections four times between 2004 and 2006 without incident. But following a July 2006 injection, Dr. Helton began experiencing joint and muscle pain that eventually became debilitating, and she was later diagnosed with botulism poisoning, according to court documents. Dr. Helton sued Allergan in 2009 saying Botox’s warning labels were inadequate. She alleged Allergan encouraged physicians to use the product “off label” for purposes and in doses not approved by the FDA. The complaint included claims based both on product liability and negligence.
The jury returned a verdict in favor of Dr. Helton on the negligence claim, but found in favor of Allergan on the product liability claim. On appeal, Allergan argued Dr. Helton failed to establish that Botox caused her injuries. The panel rejected that contention, pointing to the testimony of one of Helton’s treating physicians, Dr. Brent Beson, who testified that the Botox injection did in fact cause Dr. Helton’s condition.
Allergan claimed the court erred by allowing Dr. Helton, as well as her anesthesiologist husband and other physicians, to testify regarding their observations and opinions about the cause of her illness. Allergan claimed none of them were qualified as expert witnesses in toxicology, nor had they ever treated a patient with botulism. The appeals court said those witnesses appropriately represented their relationship to Dr. Helton and based their testimony on their general knowledge of medicine rather than any expertise in treating botulism. The opinion stated:
The fact that the witnesses used by [Helton] to assist her in shouldering her burdens of proof and persuasion were educated and trained as medical doctors presents no basis for reversal. It would be difficult to instruct a well-educated witness, in whatever field, to forget years of training, expertise and knowledge before being permitted to testify regarding matters with which they have familiarity.
Dr. Helton is represented by Ray Chester, Carlos R. Soltero and Jessica B. Palvino with the Austin, Texas, law firm McGinnis Lochridge & Kilgore and Richard C. Ford of Crowe & Dunlevy, a firm located in Oklahoma City. They did a very good job in the case. The case is Sharla Helton v. Allergan Inc. in the Court of Appeals of Oklahoma.
Sources: Jeff Sistrunk and Law360.com
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