updated 6/24/2004 7:59:31 PM ET 2004-06-24T23:59:31

A jury awarded $7.4 million to a woman who suffered brain damage in a stroke two years ago after taking a diet supplement that contained the now-banned herbal stimulant ephedra.

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The jury found Wednesday that San Diego-based marketer Metabolife International acted maliciously when it falsely told state and federal regulators that its Metabolife supplement had no adverse effects and that the company had comprehensive safety monitoring procedures.

Rhea McAllister was awarded $2.4 million in actual damages and $5 million in punitive damages.

'We were elated'
“We were elated,” her attorney Tommy Fibich said.

Ephedra was once widely used for weight loss and bodybuilding, with industry groups claiming at least 12 million users. The amphetamine-like stimulant, which speeds the heart rate and constricts blood vessels, has now been linked to 155 deaths, including that of Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler, and the federal government banned it in April.

McAllister, 35, of Crosby, is numb on one side following her stroke in April 2002, making use of her hand difficult and causing her to drag her foot, her attorneys say. She also has short-term memory loss and unpredictable dizziness, they say.

Metabolife attorney Michael G. Terry had argued that McAllister’s problems might have been caused by oral contraceptives and that a doctor had pronounced her recovered from her injuries.

The jury found McAllister 30 percent liable for failing to tell her doctor that she was using Metabolife when she first complained of dizziness and other symptoms.

The suit was one of the first to be tried among the mounting number of cases since the ban.

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