A U.S. judge on Monday made a sweeping cut to a $9 billion punitive damages settlement, slicing it down to a trifling $36.8 million against Takeda Pharmaceutical Co and Eli Lilly & Co over their diabetes drug, Actos.
District Judge Rebecca Doherty of Louisiana granted a motion in court for the two drug makers to get off practically scot-free, considering the reduction in joint punitive damages amounts to a fraction of the original award, and represents nothing to pharmaceutical companies that usually gross in the several billions. (Eli Lilly made more than $18.21 billion in gross sales just last year.)
The damages were awarded in the one of the first federal cases to go to trial in which multiple Big Pharma companies were tried simultaneously, as a consolidated group. They were awarded because both drug makers failed to warn that Actos, prescribed for diabetes, could cause bladder cancer. In 2010, the U.S Food & Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement saying that taking Actos could cause an increase in bladder cancer rates of more than 40%, but this probability even showed up in clinical trials, so why was the drug ever given a rubber stamp to begin with?
Judge Doherty’s ruling is blasphemous, considering that a drug company knowingly marketed a drug that would not only cause cancer, but also scarcely reduced the disease of diabetes. A $9 billion dollar award in those who suffered from taking this drug doesn’t come close to health destruction.
Doherty called the $9 billion damages award ‘excessive’ and said that it violated the companies’ constitutional rights. There it is again – that corporation given more rights than a human being thing – it seems absolutely absurd that this notion ever made its way into our law books. It took 10 different court cases and more than 200 years for corporations to become more important than people, but here we are.
Instead of honoring the people, not the knowing, greedy, industrialists who created a drug that would harm others, the Judge ordered Takeda to pay $27.6 million and Eli Lilly to pay $9.2 million for a total of $36.8 million. This does not compare at all to the jury’s original award. She said that the punitive damages were still:
“large enough to accomplish the jury’s clear aim: to send a message to the defendants that their wrongdoing must stop…”
I’m quite certain the jury wanted to do more than ‘warn’ these companies. After all, they and others have a long history of experimenting on public health in the name of profits. The jury likely wanted to bankrupt them. Legal experts say that the damages were vastly out of proportion to the harm done – but what does someone deserve in damages when a company knowingly poisons them with drugs?
In her ruling, Doherty urged higher courts to give more guidance on whether there should be an upper limit to punitive damages when a jury finds defendants engaged in “seriously reprehensible behavior.”
The last time I checked, a trial by jury was supposed to be just as binding as some paid-off Judge’s personal opinion.
The companies involved also asked for a brand new trial, stating that the decisions made by the jury were based on prejudicial rulings on evidence and instructions that tainted the trial’s outcome.
Strangely, though the Judge Doherty refused the new trial request stating that both Eli Lilly and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co “disregarded, denied, obfuscated and concealed” for more than a decade that Actos could increase patients’ risk for bladder cancer, she still reduced their damages to peanuts.
The case, brought by plaintiff Terrence Allen, is among more than 3,700 consolidated before Doherty. Fortunately, the companies still face thousands of additional lawsuits in state courts. Perhaps these lawsuits will shut Big Pharma down for good.
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.