The giant international pharmaceutical company Teva Pharmaceuticals (“Teva”) has agreed to pay $285 million to settle approximately 120 product liability lawsuits against it that include the claims of 150 former patients at a southern Nevada endoscopy center who supposedly contracted hepatitis C from the improper administration of Teva’s generic version of propofol. More than 60,000 patients at various Nevada endoscopy facilities may have been exposed to hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases due to the improper injection practices of nurse anesthetists.
The claims against Teva alleged that it sold over-sized vials of Teva’s propofol to the endoscopy clinics knowing that the vials were being used for multiple patients that allowed the spread of hepatitis C and other blood-borne infections despite the markings on the vials that they be used for single-use only. Teva blamed the doctors and nurses who used the single-use only vials for multiple patients but Teva had lost previous trials involving similar allegations.
Teva, which had lost the first three trials against it that resulted in verdicts of almost $800 million in compensatory and punitive damages and was involved in its fourth trial at the time the settlement was announced, evidently determined that it was in its financial interest to settle the majority of the claims against it for the payment of $285 million.
Six weeks earlier, Teva settled the claims of 43 former clinic patients for an undisclosed sum. Other former patients had settled their claims last summer. There remains 15 open lawsuits against Teva at this time.
The doctor who ran the clinics and two of the clinics’ nurse anesthetists have been charged with felonies including criminal charges of racketeering, insurance fraud, and neglect of patients. The criminal trial had been delayed for months while the attorneys argued over whether the doctor, who had suffered strokes, was competent to stand trial. Earlier this month, the doctor was determined competent to stand trial and the criminal trial has been scheduled for mid-March, 2012.
Hepatitis C is a serious and potentially deadly virus that recently overtook AIDS in the number of victims that it claims on a yearly basis in the United States (in 2007, there were 15,000 deaths due to hepatitis C compared to almost 13,000 deaths due to AIDS). Hepatitis C affects the liver and can result in liver cancer, liver cirrhosis, or liver failure, requiring a liver transplant. About 3.2 million Americans (170 million people worldwide) are living with chronic hepatitis C and more than half of them do not even know that they are infected. Baby boomers (those born in the United States between 1945 and 1965) may represent two-thirds of those living with hepatitis C, which may take decades to do its damage. Three-fourths of hepatitis C deaths are in the 45 to 64 year-old age group. One in 33 baby boomers may have hepatitis C and most are unaware that they are infected.
Federal health officials are considering whether all baby boomers should be tested for hepatitis C, which may result in saving 82,000 lives, especially since two remarkable drugs became available last summer that offer the possible cure for hepatitis C infections. Those new drugs are telaprevir (manufactured by Vertex Pharmaceuticals) and boceprevir (manufactured by Merck & Co.). When one of them is added to the standard treatment, the cure rate rises to as high as 75%. There are other drugs that offer even greater hope for hepatitis C patients that are being developed in the new-drug pipeline.
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