For the second time in a year and a half, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Baxter Healthcare have a lost a trial in which a jury determined they contributed to a 2008 hepatitis outbreak in Nevada due to the way the Propofol medication was marketed. Another defendant was McKesson, the big distributor. The jury awarded three people a total of $20 million, although punitive damages are not yet decided.
In this latest trial, Richard Sacks, Anthony DeVito and Anne Arnold argued Teva intentionally sold outsized vials to encourage doctors to reuse them, even though there was a risk of spreading hepatitis C and other diseases. They contended they contracted the illness during colonoscopies. If the name propofol is familiar, by the way, this is the same sedative given Michael Jackson before he died.
Teva faces about 300 lawsuits resulting from the hepatitis C outbreak. And as Bloomberg News notes, investigations by Nevada health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blamed the reuse of Propofol vials for infecting patients. Some 50,000 patients were notified about possible exposure to hepatitis, HIV and other blood-borne diseases because of unsafe injection practices at two clinics. Last year, criminal charges were filed against a doctor who ran one of the clinics.
Last year, a Nevada jury awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and $500 million in punitive damages to a man who contracted hepatitis C. He charged the sedative lacked appropriate warnings and the drugmakers should not have provided large vials of the anesthetic to endoscopy centers. Teva is appealing the verdict (back story).
The lawyers for the plaintiffs who won the most recent trial are reportedly seeking $600 million in punitive damages. Baxter, by the way, was named as a defendant because the company sold the drug for Teva until 2009. Recently, Baxter won a ruling that forces Teva to assume its liability in these lawsuits.