LAS VEGAS (AP) — A jury in Las Vegas ordered two drug companies to pay a combined $500 million in punitive damages in the first of hundreds of civil cases stemming from a hepatitis C outbreak two years ago.
The Clark County District Court jury on Friday ordered Teva Parenteral Medicines to pay $356 million to Henry Chanin and his wife, Lorraine. Baxter Healthcare Corp. was ordered to pay the couple $144 million.
“We’re hoping that it sends a message to these drug companies that they need to come here to Las Vegas with the right people and sit down and get these cases resolved,” Chanin’s lawyer, Robert Eglet, told The Associated Press. “Take care of these people who have been infected.”
Baxter spokeswoman Erin Gardiner said the Deerfield, Ill.-based company would appeal the decision.
“This was a case of product misuse related to unsafe clinical practices as opposed to an issue with a widely used and clearly labeled product,” Gardiner said. “Jurors were not allowed to hear a number of compelling facts related to unsafe clinical practice at the root of the issue.”
A spokeswoman for Teva did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
The punitive damages come on top of more than $5 million already awarded to the couple by the same jury. It found the companies responsible for breach of implied warranty and failure to warn. The jury awarded Henry Chanin $3.25 million and his wife $1.85 million from the companies.
Health officials have blamed reusing vials of the anesthetic propofol for infecting patients with the incurable liver disease.
The drug manufacturer and distributor provided the propofol used by endoscopy clinics at the heart of the hepatitis C outbreak. At least nine — and possibly as many as 114 — patients were infected with the disease.
The Southern Nevada Health District advised about 50,000 patients who received endoscopy procedures at the clinics to get tested. The 2008 notification prompted widespread fear of infection and led to the lawsuits.
Eglet said he represents 40 more patients with lawsuits who contracted hepatitis C and another 4,500 who were tested after the notification but did not contract the disease.
The Chanins’ case was the first to reach trial.
Henry Chanin, the 62-year-old headmaster of a private school run by the wife of Las Vegas’ mayor, contracted hepatitis C in 2006 during a routine procedure at Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center, the jury was told.
His lawyer said the vials provided by the companies were larger than necessary.
Drug company lawyers have maintained that the vials were marked with instructions and warnings, and medical professionals decided what sizes were appropriate.
Gardiner said the jury was not allowed to hear that syringes were reused on multiple patients or that vials labeled for single use were reused multiple times on multiple patients.
“We expect that this decision will be successfully appealed,” she said.
Eglet said he offered to settle the Chanins’ case with Teva and Baxter for $1.7 million in February.
“It was about trying to get these drug companies to change their ways,” he said. “The whole reason the Chanins brought this case is to try to make sure this never happens to anyone else.”
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