Improper Propofol Use Leads to $183 Million Verdict Against Pharmaceutical Maker

A Las Vegas jury awarded $182.6 million in compensatory and punitive damages against pharmaceutical maker Teva and two distributors, McKesson and Baxter. The case involved an outbreak of Hepatitis C in Las Vegas among patients at a group of endoscopy clinics. These clinics improperly re-used vials of Propofol rather than dispose of the mostly-full vials after each procedure, allowing blood-borne pathogens to be transferred among patients. Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that Teva supplied larger 50ml Propofol vials, rather than the 20ml vials necessary to perform the procedure, because it was more profitable to do so, even though Teva knew of the risk that endoscopy clinics would double-dose if given the larger vials. They also argued that numerous journals, including a report from the Center for Disease Control, recommended that the 50ml vial should be eliminated or modified because they created a health risk. Teva failed to monitor the medical literature and risks their products posed to the general public.

While the defendants argued that the outbreak was caused by a culture of unsafe practices at the endoscopy clinics, the jury found that Teva violated its duty to monitor and, along with co-defendants Baxter and McKesson, breached the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. The jury found that compensatory damages, loss of consortium damages, and punitive damaged were warranted, awarding $20.1 million to the three plaintiffs and punitive damages of $162.5 million.

This is not the first time a jury rendered a multi-million dollar verdict against a pharmaceutical company because of oversized vials. In 2010, another Las Vegas jury awarded $500 million in punitive damages, in addition to $5.1 million in compensatory damages, because of an outbreak of Hepatitis C as outpatient surgical centers caused by double-dosing.