An Argentine tennis star on Tuesday sued a multivitamin manufacturer for a contaminated product that he said led him to fail a steroid test and caused significant damage to his career and earnings.
Guillermo Coria, once one of the world's top 10 players, is suing Universal Nutrition of New Brunwick, NJ, for selling multivitamins he says were contaminated with nandrolone and other steroids that had previously been made by the company.
Coria was suspended from tennis for seven months after failing the doping test in 2001. He would be the first top athlete to prove that a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs was caused by product contamination, his lawyers say.
In opening arguments in New Jersey Superior Court before Judge Bradley Ferencz, Coria's attorney William Nystrom said Coria's career and earnings had been severely hit by suspension from the ATP Tour, the world governing body of men's tennis.
"This case is about an exceptional young tennis player who lost two years of his professional tennis life because of the defendant, Universal Nutrition," Nystrom told the jury.
In early 2001, Coria, then 19, started taking multivitamins made by Universal, and in April of that year provided a urine sample which tested positive for nandrolone, a banned steroid.
He was initially suspended for two years but the ATP Tour reduced the ban to seven months after an independent laboratory determined that the multivitamin was contaminated with nandrolone and other steroids.
Universal's attorney Richard Grossman said the multivitamins contained an "infinitesimal" amount of the steroids, and argued that Coria staged a strong recovery to rise as high as world No. 2 in the 2003-2005 period.
"Guillermo Coria came back from his suspension and started playing really good tennis and making really good money," Grossman said.
Grossman also argued that the multivitamin itself was not defective, and so the plaintiffs could not claim that it had failed to do what its maker claimed.
Coria, who was in court with his wife Carla, ranked in the ATP top 10 players in 2003, 2004 and 2005; he is now ranked 344th worldwide.
The suit charges Universal with negligence in making and marketing its contaminated multivitamin. His lawyers estimate his financial damages at $10 million as a result of the ban.
Other top athletes who have claimed they were victims of steroid-contaminated products include seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong who said a lotion he had used for saddle soreness contained steroids, and the German 1992 Olympic 5,000 meters champion Dieter Baumann who claimed his toothpaste had been spiked with steroids.