Two major verdicts against drug companies and distributors recently came out of Las Vegas. Both lawsuits involved the drug-maker Teva, a foreign company that manufactures the drug Propofol, and Baxter, an Illinois company that sold Propofol on behalf of Teva until 2009.
Propofol is an intravenous drug used for sedation or anesthesia. The lawsuits arose after an outbreak of Hepatitis C in patients who had received the drug during colonoscopy procedures. The cases alleged that Teva intentionally sold Propofol in oversized vials to encourage doctors to reuse them, despite the risk of spreading blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs are alleging that Teva executives pushed for the sales of larger vials simply because they were more profitable than smaller vials that presented less risk. Teva, on the other hand, claims that the issue is with physician error—that physicians were reusing needles to draw out the anesthetic.
Jurors are siding with the plaintiffs, however. Despite Teva’s claims of doctor error, in a number of cases coming out of Las Vegas courts, jurors have awarded injured patients millions in damages. In one case, a couple was awarded $5.1 million in compensatory damages and another $500 million in punitive damages. In another case, a judgment of $14 million was awarded and in yet another, the jury awarded $162.5 million in punitive damages. In total, Teva faces nearly 300 lawsuits in relation to the hepatitis C outbreak that occurred in southern Nevada three years ago.
The significant size of these damage awards are a strong message to drug manufacturers and distributors to stop putting profits before safety.