Deadly Diet Pill's Makers Will Face Family's Suit
by Julie St. Louis, Courthouse News, December 16, 2015
HONOLULU (CN) - A federal judge in Hawaii refused to dismiss cases claiming that the diet pill OxyElite Pro killed a 48-year-old wife and mother, instead ordering three separately filed suits combined.
Two of the children of Sonette Marras filed separate wrongful death actions after their mother died of liver failure, allegedly stemming from her use of the diet supplement OxyElite Pro, in 2013.
Daughter Ronsonette Smith-Marras sued General Nutrition Corp. and OxyElite makers USPLabs and S.K. Laboratories, while son Ronden Marras' complaint adds individuals Jonathan Doyle and Jacob Geissler and USPLabs OxyElite PN as defendants. Both suits were filed in 2015.
A wrongful death suit brought by Sonette Marras' estate and her minor children was filed in 2014.
Federal prosecutors indicted the supplement makers, Geissler, Doyle and others this past month, claiming they had used synthetic materials instead of natural plant extracts as advertised.
The feds believe those synthetic materials led to an outbreak of liver injuries.
The indictment also states that "USPlabs and its principals told the Food and Drug Administration in October 2013 that it would stop distribution of OxyElite Pro, once the product had been implicated in an outbreak of liver injuries."
Despite this promise, "USPLabs engaged in a surreptitious, all-hands-on-deck effort to sell as much OxyElite Pro as it could as quickly as possible," the indictment states.
While the pills were eventually recalled and destroyed, Hawaii News Now reported in January 2014 that people across the nation continued to be sickened - mostly with liver injuries.
The newspaper said more than 50 people nationwide - 33 of them in Hawaii - suffered from acute nonviral hepatitis or liver failure between May and October 23, 2013. Marras, mother of seven children aged 13 months to 26 years, was the only death attributed to the weight loss supplement.
Hawaii residents who took the pill were still seeking medical attention as first-time patients as late as January 2014, the newspaper said.
Several victims got liver transplants, but Marras was deemed ineligible when doctors found a cancerous tumor in her breast while she was hospitalized for liver failure. Doctors told her family that she had about a week to live as they sat at her hospital bedside, the newspaper said.
Lawyers for GNC and the diet pill's makers asked U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi to dismiss the cases brought by Marras' son and daughter, arguing that Hawaii's wrongful death law only allows for "a single wrongful death action brought on behalf of all the persons identified in the statute," including "surviving spouse, children, father, mother and any person wholly or partly dependent on the deceased."
Kobayashi, of the District of Hawaii, agreed that was true - but disagreed with the pill makers' contention "that dismissal is the remedy for the filing of multiple wrongful death actions" and ordered the three cases consolidated.
"The Hawaii Supreme Court has recognized that, under section 663-3, 'the decedent's surviving spouse, children and dependents each are granted by the statute, the right, independent of one another, to recover under the wrongful death statute,'" Kobayashi wrote.
The judge's ruling allows Marras' older children to join their cases with that of Keahi Paveo and Derek Kamiya, plaintiffs representing Marras' estate, minor children and husband.
Since the original epidemic of OxyElite-induced illnesses in Hawaii, doctors at Queen's Medical Center Liver Center in Honolulu informed state legislators that the ingredient aegeline was most likely the cause of the liver damage. Aegeline is a synthetic version of a natural substance found in bael trees.
Meanwhile, the feds claim OxyElite Pro contained a methamphetamine-like chemical, 1,3-dimethylamylamine, or DMAA, manufactured in China.