The 30 Most Memorable Cases

Massachusetts Weekly Newsletter The 30 Most Memorable Cases of the Last 30 Years
Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, September 16, 2002.
reprinted with permission

It was to be one of the most important days in Mary Linnen's life, and the 30-year-old Quincy woman wanted to look her best.

So, for a 23-day period in the spring of 1996, Linnen took the popular diet pill combination "fen-phen" in hopes of shedding some unwanted pounds before her upcoming wedding.

By November of that year, Linnen was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension brought on by her exposure to the diet pills. The deadly heart and lung disease took her life on Feb. 22, 1997.

In January 2000, just as trial in Middlesex Superior Court was ending its second week, Linnen, et al. v. A.H. Robins, et al.- the nation's first wrongful death lawsuit against the manufacturers of fen-phen - settled for an undisclosed amount. Rumored to be between $13 million and $19 million, the settlement is said to be one of the largest wrongful death recoveries in the history of Massachusetts.

Though the trial failed to play out, its two-week run was not without its legally significant moments. Under the direction of Judge Raymond J. Brassard, Linnen was one of the first times in the commonwealth where evidentiary hearings under the Daubert ruling were undertaken.

Looking back on the case, Linnen's lawyer, Alex H. MacDonald of Boston, says: "We hope - from a public policy point of view - that litigation like Linnen and the associated [federal] Multi-District Litigation.might encourage a more watchful posture on the part of the [Food and Drug Administration]; a more cautious reaction on the part of physicians to what pharmaceutical companies represent the safety of new products to be; and that the public be aware that one has to approach with a healthy skepticism the representations that any drug company has invented a 'magic pill.'"