January 12, 2016, PLLR E-Newsletter
Chinese herbal supplement caused woman’s kidney failure
The plaintiff sued three companies that allegedly distributed and sold the supplement, alleging that the product was defective in that it contained aristolochic acid, a substance commonly used in Chinese manufacturing but banned in the United States. The jury awarded about $3.82 million. Drury v. Life Rising Corp.
Dolores Drury, 59, was experiencing aches and pains and visited her chiropractor. He sold her some Chinese herbal supplements and recommended that she meet with Zhengang Guo, an acupuncturist who owned Life Rising Corp. and several other Chinese herbal supplement companies. Guo allegedly recommended that Drury take supplements, including DSN-2, manufactured and distributed by his companies.
In 2007, after Drury had been taking the supplements for about two years, she noticed that she was out of breath while climbing a flight of stairs. Blood tests performed by her doctor revealed that her kidney function was down, and subsequent testing by specialists confirmed that her kidneys were failing rapidly. Drury had no family history of kidney problems and few risk factors. The doctors ultimately diagnosed Chinese herb nephropathy, or kidney damage caused by ingestion of aristolochic acid—a naturally occurring toxin that has been linked to renal failure. The substance is commonly used in Chinese manufacturing but is banned in the United States.
Drury suffered kidney failure and required a transplant, after which she was placed on an immunosuppressant medication regimen. She incurred about $360,800 in medical expenses related to the kidney disease and transplant.
At the time she became ill, Drury was working as a wound, ostomy, and continence nurse, and the vulnerability of her transplanted kidney greatly limited the type of patients she could see. In addition, the immunosuppressant medication regimen resulted in numerous severe infections requiring hospitalization. She later developed bladder cancer and required a radical cystectomy—removal of the bladder, ureters, uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes—which entailed a significant recovery period. Additional medical expenses related to the bladder cancer totaled about $154,900.
Drury also later developed breast cancer.
Drury sued Guo, Life Rising Corp., and two other companies—Nature’s Health Corp. and Ton Shen Health, Inc.—that allegedly distributed and sold the supplements. The plaintiff contended that the supplements had a manufacturing defect in that they contained aristolochic acid.
In 2011, while suit was pending, Drury died of metastatic cancer at age 64, survived by her husband, two adult children, and several grandchildren. Her husband, on behalf of her estate, was substituted as the plaintiff. The estate argued that Drury’s kidney failure was caused by the supplements, that her bladder cancer was also related to the supplements, and that the metastasis of her prior breast cancer was related, in part, to the immunosuppressant medications she was required to take. The plaintiff claimed additional medical expenses of about $166,500 related to the metastasis.
The defendants denied that the supplements contained aristolochic acid and further denied any causal relationship between the products and Drury’s injuries. The defendants reportedly violated numerous discovery rulings, resulting in sanctions and the admission of certain Requests for Admission. Ultimately, the trial court granted partial summary judgment to the estate, leaving causation and damages to be determined by the jury.
The jury found for the estate on causation and awarded about $3.82 million, including $2 million for Drury’s pain and suffering, $1 million for her loss of enjoyment of life, $682,200 for medical expenses, $75,000 for past disfigurement, and $60,000 for past lost earnings.
Citation: Drury v. Life Rising Corp., No. 2008-L-014411 (Ill. Cir. Ct. Cook Cnty. Nov. 2, 2015).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ members Mark R. Niemeyer and David Grebel, both of St. Louis.
Plaintiff experts: Bahar Bastani, kidney disease, Heidi Joist, kidney disease, and Susan Luedke, oncology, all of St. Louis; Li-Li Hsiao, internal medicine, Boston; and Philip Newhall, urology, Festus, Mo.
Comment: Earlier claims against the chiropractor and his clinic were settled for an undisclosed amount.