Attorneys for the UC Regents and a UCLA doctor have reached a tentative settlement with a man who sued for medical malpractice after his wife died in 2019 at age 33 of liver failure after allegedly being overprescribed a statin.

Lawyers for plaintiff Ashley Steele filed a notice of conditional settlement on Monday with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Audra Mori, stating that the accord is subject to approval during a meeting by the UC Board of Regents in January. No terms were divulged.

The lawsuit stemmed from the death of Maria Steele, a native of the Philippines who lived in Winnetka and went by her middle name, Isabella. The wrongful death suit alleges Dr. Patrick Yaffee did not warn her to be aware of side effects of Atorvastatin, a generic for Lipitor.

“Dr. Yaffee failed to instruct (Maria Steele) to stop taking Atorvastatin if she experienced muscle pain and weakness,” the suit stated. “He failed to warn her that if she continued to take the drug after experiencing side effects that she was risking more serious injury, such as liver failure and death.”

But in a trial brief, lawyers for the UC Regents and Dr. Patrick Yaffee say Lipitor was the most prescribed drug in the world in 2019, with 24.5 million people in the U.S. alone being taking the drug, or 7.5% of the population.

“There is no reported case of a fatal liver injury occurring in any patient taking Atorvastatin at any dose in a patient with no history of pre-existing liver disease,” the defense attorneys stated in their court papers. “This is true despite the fact that Atorvastatin and other statin drugs have been prescribed on literally millions of occasions throughout the world over the last two decades.”

The lawsuit, filed in May 2019, included a photo of Ashley Steele and his late wife in evening clothes at an event. She was described in court papers as a healthy woman at the time who exercised regularly.

Maria Steele saw Yaffee on Jan. 4, 2019, for an annual physical at UCLA Health Woodland Hills and was diagnosed after a blood test that showed higher than normal cholesterol levels, the suit states. Yaffee prescribed her a two-month supply of Atorvastatin at an 80-milligram dosage, the suit stated.

“He did not disclose to (Maria Steele) that his dosage was between four and eight times higher than the starting dose recommended by the manufacturer,” which was 10 to 20 milligrams, the suit stated.

By late January 2019, Maria Steele complained of fatigue and other symptoms and said she was concerned they were related to her use of the drug, but Yaffee told her to keep taking the medication and arranged for her to see a cholesterol specialist, the suit stated.

Maria Steele, meanwhile, contacted the UCLA Health Skirball Health Center and asked that a liver panel be performed, but her request was denied by the defendants, the suit stated.

Three days later, Maria Steele again requested a liver panel and Yaffee authorized the test, telling her via a voicemail afterward that the results showed “increased enzymes for liver probably related” to the drug, according to the suit, which stated the doctor additionally told the woman to stop taking the medication and to see a cardiologist and cholesterol specialist.

On Jan. 29, 2019, Maria Steele was so weak and in so much pain that her husband had to carry her to the emergency room, according to his court papers. She was later flown to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, placed in the cardiac care unit and put on the liver-transplant list, but died on Feb. 2, 2019, the suit stated.

“Defendants utterly failed to meet the minimum standard of care, beginning with Dr. Yaffee’s interaction with (Maria Steele) at the physical,” the lawsuit alleged.

Had Yaffee taken an adequate history, he could have determined that she had been on a ketogenic diet for nearly a year and that the appropriate way to treat her elevated lipids would have been to change what she was eating, the suit stated.

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