How an oversized bottle led to a $505 million jury verdict

June 4, 2010

The June 1 Jury Verdict of the Week was a real eye-opener for some of our Facebook fans – and for good reason. After all, it’s not every day that we see a verdict worth more than half a billion dollars.

Of the $505 million jury award, only $5 million was awarded as compensation for pain and suffering. The remainder consisted of punitive damages against two drug companies, Teva Parenteral ($356 million) and Baxter Healthcare ($144 million).

Here’s the story: The plaintiff, Henry Chanin, contracted Hepatitis C (a debilitating liver disease) after a routine colonoscopy at a Nevada clinic in 2006. The source of his disease was traced to a contaminated needle used to inject Propofol, an anesthetic. The drug had been sold to the clinic by Teval and Baxter in 50 ml vials, which was enough for multiple endoscopy procedures.

Chanin’s attorney, Robert Eglet, argued that the large size of the vial had led to “multidosing,” or using the same vial for multiple patients, which is how the bottle came to be infected with Hepatitis C. The drug companies knew that the 50 ml vials were less safe for endoscopy use than the smaller single-dose sizes that were available. In fact, as Eglet reminded the jury, they had admitted as much in an FDA filing from 2000.

The original suit named two doctors and a nurse as defendants, along with the clinic, a consultancy, and a total of five drug companies. All but Teva and Baxter settled out of court or were dismissed from the suit.

The verdict is a reminder that when it comes to pharmaceuticals, bigger isn’t always better.

For more on Chanin’s ordeal, see this article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.