O's outraged as ephedra maker names team in Bechler lawsuit
By By Peter Schmuck
Dec 03, 2003 | 3:00 AM
The company that makes the controversial ephedra-based diet supplement Xenadrine RFA-1 has filed a motion to include the Orioles as a third-party defendant in the $600 million lawsuit brought by the widow of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler.
Nutraquest, formerly known as Cytodyne Industries, hopes to establish that the team was responsible for Bechler's death from heatstroke, though Broward County (Fla.) medical examiner Joshua Perper pointed to his ingestion of three Xenadrine capsules before a spring training workout as one of the major contributing factors in the tragedy.
The company charged in the motion - as it did during a damage control campaign in February - that the Orioles were negligent because Bechler, 23, was in poor physical condition and had pre-existing health problems that should have prevented him from taking part in strenuous exercise.
"Obviously, it is a tragedy when a man dies at such a young age," Nutraquest president Robert Chinery Jr., said in a prepared statement. "However, the conduct of the Baltimore Orioles is tragic as well. In this case, there is no credible evidence whatsoever to support the theory that Xenadrine RFA-1 contributed to Mr. Bechler's death in any way.
"In fact, there is not a single published study linking heatstroke to ephedra and out of tens of millions of users, this represents the first case in which a fatal heatstroke has been allegedly linked to ephedra. Sadly, Mr. Bechler's death could have been avoided if the Orioles acted properly."
Orioles owner Peter Angelos responded with outrage when the same charges were made publicly by company officials and industry lobbyists. Orioles counsel Russell Smouse echoed that outrage yesterday in response to the potential lawsuit.
"To suggest that the Orioles were responsible in any way, shape or form for the unfortunate death of Steve Bechler is outrageous and irresponsible," Smouse said. "We will vigorously resist this claim, which is baseless both in law and fact."
Smouse dismissed the motion as a desperate legal maneuver by a company that has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to insulate itself against a string of ephedra-related lawsuits. He lauded the performance of the Orioles' training and medical staff after Bechler collapsed on Feb. 16.
"Nobody with the Orioles did anything wrong," Smouse said. "None of our people did anything wrong that contributed to his death. In fact, they responded admirably to the circumstances that were presented."
Kiley Bechler, who is represented by the New York law firm of David Meiselman, sued Cytodyne Industries in July. The company filed for bankruptcy in October and changed its name to Nutraquest.
The company listed assets of $50 million and debts of $100 million and cited the rising tide of ephedra litigation in public comments about the Chapter 11 filing. Those debts included $18 million owed to claimants in a California class action suit.
Cytodyne Industries did hold liability insurance at the time of the tragedy, so Kiley Bechler still could collect damages or agree to an out-of-court settlement with the insurance carrier.
The lawsuit also cites an industry funded forensic review of Bechler's case by former New York City medical examiner Michael Baden that concluded that Xenadrine did not cause Bechler's death.
"The Orioles clearly should have been equipped to treat someone for heatstroke," said Nutraquest general counsel Shane Freedman. "If they had employed that treatment properly, Steve Bechler probably would be alive today."
Freedman failed to specify, however, what the Orioles' medical staff should have done differently after Bechler's collapse.