Diet pill lawsuit settled

An agreement has been reached in a Canadian class-action lawsuit against the maker and distributor of two diet pills.

The suit involves more than 155,000 people who used Ponderal and Redux also known by their generic names flenfluramine and dexfenfluramine. They've now been linked to a range of heart and lung diseases.

The pills were pulled off the market in September 1997.

"It's a major step in proceeding towards compensating those who developed primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH) or heart disease," said Vincent Genova, a lawyer representing the complainants.

The settlement with French pharmaceutical company Biofarma and Servier Canada, the distributor, is still subject to court approval. Genova predicts that could come as early as June. Those who qualify for compensation could get their money later this year.

Servier may also be required to reimburse private and public health plans to cover the cost of screening, diagnosis and treatment of Canadians who took the drugs, whether they have symptoms or not.

Torontonian Sheila Wilson launched the suit in November 1998. A year later, a British Columbia woman said she had to undergo open heart surgery after taking the diet pill Ponderal.

"That's not to say...that everyone who took the medication would be entitled to compensation," said Genova.

After the settlement is approved, claim forms would need to be completed and then sent, with any medical documentation, to a committee .

"We expect there to be a great number of individuals who have not come forward as yet who will be in a position to advance a claim," says Genova.

The settlement does not cover Quebecers, who have their own class-action suit.