A West Virginia jury has ordered German pharmaceutical manufacturer Boehringer Ingelheim to pay $1.25 million in compensation to the family of a woman who died while being treated with the company's blood thinner Pradaxa, the Connecticut Law Tribune reports. Jurors for the federal court found that Boehringer Ingelheim misrepresented Pradaxa's risks, causing the woman to suffer gastrointestinal bleeding that ultimately proved fatal.
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The verdict, announced on Wednesday, October 18, 2018, represents the first time the German drugmaker has been found liable in a case of Pradaxa-related injuries. Prior to the West Virginia jury result, Boehringer Ingelheim had won three straight trials over the medication, which has been linked to an increased risk of bleeding.
A nine-member jury for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia awarded the family of Betty Knight a total of $1.25 million in damages, including $250,000 in compensatory damages. The remaining $1 million came as punitive damages, which are intended to punish defendants for particularly egregious forms of negligent conduct.
Knight died of severe gastrointestinal bleeding at the age of 84. At trial, plaintiffs' attorneys argued that Boehringer Ingelheim had lied about the risks of Pradaxa, allegedly concealing the drug's true nature from patients and health care professionals.
In marketing materials, Boehringer insists that the blood levels of patients taking Pradaxa don't need to be monitored on a regular basis. Routine blood monitoring is a major downside of traditional blood thinners, including warfarin. But attorneys say that blood level tests are still necessary, and that Betty Knight's blood was over-saturated with the medication.
"They have tried to market a drug that should be monitored so people do not get too much in their blood," according to plaintiffs' attorney C. Andrew Childers, who represented Knight's family in the case. "They have marketed it as 'you never need to have you blood level checked,' and people are walking around with no idea they are over-anticoagulated."
Childers was quick to note that Pradaxa "is not a terrible drug, overall." But Boehringer Ingelheim's marketing strategy leaves a lot to be desired, the attorney claims. "The way it is being marketed is causing people to hurt unnecessarily, especially when there are other drug options out there. For some people, it's just not their drug." Childers says routine blood monitoring is particularly important for patients who have kidney problems, as Knight did.
The West Virginia jury agreed with some, but not all, of Childers' arguments. The jury found Boerhinger Ingelheim liable for the plaintiff and her family's damages on one count of fraud, but exonerated the German company on charges of inadequate warning labels.
During the trial, defense attorneys painted a portrait of a frail old woman battling multiple severe medical disorders. As Phyllis Jones, lead defense attorney for Boehringer Ingelheim, told jurors at trial, "You will see throughout the course of this case that she had a number of serious chronic medical conditions that her doctors were helping her with: serious kidney disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes. She had chronic weakness."
Boehringer Ingelheim has already expressed its intention to appeal the decision. "We are disappointed that the jury ruled for the plaintiffs on their fraud claim, which appears to be a misunderstanding of unique legal issues in this case and contrary to the evidence presented here," the company said in a statement. "We will pursue all avenues of appeal."
Nearly 3,000 Pradaxa lawsuits are currently pending in state and federal courts across the country. Around 2,600 of these claims have been consolidated for coordinated pre-trial proceedings in a Connecticut state court, but this isn't the first time Boerhinger Ingelheim has faced legal trouble over Pradaxa. Far from it. This is actually the second wave of Pradaxa lawsuits. In 2014, the company settled a multi-district litigation centered around the medication for a total of $650 million, resolving over 4,000 claims filed about the drug's risk of major bleeding.
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