Pauline Buchanan of Mississauga has spent the last 15 years in a legal battle with the Ortho Pharmaceutical Company after she suffered a Pill-induced stroke. Although the Appeal Court of Ontario last month upheld a lower court’s ruling in her favour, Ortho is now considering an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Mrs. Buchan, now 37, was partly paralyzed by a stroke in 1971, six weeks after she began taking the Ortho-Novum 1/50 oral contraceptive. Although she can now walk, she cannot use her left arm and cannot work.
Last April, the Ontario Supreme Court ruled that, although Ortho complied with Canadian regulations on product warnings, these regulations were insufficient in the case of the Pill and the company was negligent in not warning physicians and consumers of the risks associated with the Pill.
The court awarded Mrs. Buchan $606,795 for loss of income, general damages, future loss and expenses. She was also awarded her legal costs and $230,230 in prejudgment interest. She has not received a cent, however, since Ortho immediately appealed the judgment.
In a unanimous decision, five Appeal Court judges agreed with the Supreme Court and upheld Mrs. Buchan’s award. They said there was “substantial evidence…that a causal connection existed between the plaintiff’s stroke and the defendant’s drug.”
Ortho had argued that it had carried out its obligation to inform doctors of possible side effects and it denied that it had any responsibility to warn consumers directly. The Appeal Court disagreed and said that the company had a responsibility to warn consumers directly, adding that it was the inadequacy of Ortho’s warnings that led to Mrs. Buchan’s injuries.
The court further said that tougher laws are needed to protect Pill users. The judges stated that, since consumers have decided “more frequently than not” to take the Pill before going to a doctor for a prescription, “manufacturers of this drug should be obliged…to warn the ultimate consumer as well as prescribing physicians.
Mrs. Buchan told the Toronto Sun that she was pleased with the Appeal Court decision. “I wasn’t feeling very good and it changed my day,” she said. If the company appeals to the Supreme Court of Canada, payment will be delayed again. “If it takes more time I’m prepared to wait,” she said.