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Bayer Faces Lawsuit

Munich lawyer Michael Witti, who successfully sued on behalf of Nazi-era slave laborers, will join a lawsuit filed on behalf of those who suffered from side effects of Bayer's cholesterol-reducing drug Baycol

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Michael Witti (left) expects billions in damages

Michael Witti is at it again.

The controversial Munich lawyer who has made a name for himself filing international class-action lawsuits against big defendants has set his sights on German pharmaceutical giant Bayer.

Witti, together with American colleague Kenneth Moll, announced on Monday that they had filed suit in a Minnesota court on behalf of thousands of non-US plaintiffs who suffered from Bayer's cholesterol-reducing drug, Baycol. The damages, he said, could reach billions of dollars.

Baycol, known as Lipobay in Europe, made headlines last summer after patients began suffering muscle weakness and pains after taking the drug. The lawyers said that more than 50 deaths have been associated with the drug worldwide, among them five Germans.

Bayer optimistic suit will fail

A Bayer spokesperson said the company expected the lawsuit to be rejected by the U.S. court. German suits against a German company should be handled in Germany not America, the spokesman said.

Witti, who represents more than 2,000 clients, was optimistic the Minnesota court would accept the case.

"There are have been similar cases in which foreign clients have had success in US courts," Witti said at a press conference on Monday.

He called the class-action suit the "perfect mechanism" for representing the thousands of international clients. Baycol was developed and tested in the United States, not Germany, making it the appropriate place to file the suit, said Moll. Moll has already brought suit against Bayer on behalf of eight US clients. The court is expected to make a decision within a year.

Witti vs. Goliath

It would be the latest in a long line of big name defendants Witti has taken on. The lawyer attracted worldwide attention after pressuring the German government into compensating hundreds of thousands of Nazi-era forced and slave laborers. Last year, Witti and Fagan teamed up again, this time filing billion dollar lawsuits on behalf of farmers who said the German and French government didn’t do enough to spread mad cow disease.

In the case against Bayer, Witti and Moll charge that the Leverkusen-based company didn’t take the drug off the market long after knowing its damaging side-effects.

Bayer’s tough year

The crisis was part of up-and-down year for the German pharmacy giant, which was confronted with its first quarterly loss in history after the Lipobay disaster. The company’s star began to rise again in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks as the largest producer of the Anthrax antidote Cipro.

Though sales of Cipro are on the rise, Bayer expects the Baycol recall to slash 800 million euro from its 2001 operating profit. The company has also lost about one fourth of its market value since August.

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