- Associated Press - Monday, October 10, 2011

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A Nevada jury on Monday ordered three pharmaceutical companies to pay $162.5 million in punitive damages in a lawsuit that accused them of negligently distributing large vials of an anesthetic to Las Vegas clinics at the center of a 2008 hepatitis C outbreak.

The damages awarded in Clark County District Court are on top of the $20.1 million in compensatory damages awarded to five plaintiffs Thursday after a jury found Teva Parenteral Medicines Inc., Baxter Healthcare Corp. and McKesson Corp. liable.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers had accused the companies of putting corporate profits ahead of patient safety, and of recklessly distributing 50 milliliter vials of the powerful anesthetic propofol to clinics where 10 or 20 milliliter doses were commonly needed for outpatient colonoscopy procedures. They had sought $600 million in punitive damages.

Teva attorney Mark Tully declined comment to reporters after the verdict was read, while photographers and news cameras snapped pictures of family members of the plaintiffs hugging each other and their lawyers.

"I’m glad this if over with. It’s not about the money," said Anne Arnold, who was awarded $10 million in compensatory damages, plus a share of the punitive award.

"I don’t want anybody else to go through what I’m going through," she said. "It’s hell."

Philip Hymanson, attorney for Baxter and McKesson, told jurors the propofol was manufactured properly and delivered properly, and that clinic doctors and anesthesiologists were at fault if they misused it. Hymanson said there was no proof that happened.

The companies maintain the vials were properly marked with instructions and warnings, and that jurors weren’t allowed to hear that reusing syringes on multiple patients and not following proper sterilizing procedures could also have spread the incurable liver disease.

Teva was ordered to pay $89.4 million, while Baxter was told to pay $55.3 million and McKesson was ordered to pay $17.9 million.

Robert Eglet, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the cases would continue until the companies change the vials it sells. He said the judgments should also urge the companies to settle cases that have not been resolved.

"They need to come to this community and they need to make this right and resolve this case with everyone," he said. "But if not, we’re prepared to continue on."

The civil trials are the first of several now reaching trial phases in Las Vegas stemming from the 2008 hepatitis outbreak traced to colonoscopy clinics run by Dr. Dipak Desai. Southern Nevada health officials advised about 50,000 patients who received endoscopy procedures at Desai clinics to be tested for hepatitis. At least nine and as many as 114 patients were infected with the disease.

Desai and his clinics reached undisclosed settlements with plaintiffs before trial and are no longer involved.

A jury heard seven weeks of testimony before finding the three companies responsible for injuries to endoscopy clinic patients Robert Sacks, Anthony Devito and Arnold, and to spouses Donna Devito and James Arnold.

Teva has promised an appeal. A statement from company spokeswoman Denise Bradley blamed plaintiffs’ injuries on clinic doctors and anesthesiologists who "blatantly ignored" product handling instructions "and also used unsanitary practices."

Another Clark County District Court jury last year found Teva and Baxter liable for damages in a similar case and awarded a combined $500 million in punitive damages to a Las Vegas private school principal and his wife. The man, Henry Chanin, claimed he contracted hepatitis C during a routine endoscopy procedure in 2006.

The companies have appealed that case to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Separately, Desai and two nurses have been indicted on criminal charges including racketeering, insurance fraud and neglect of patients. They pleaded not guilty. Trial in Clark County District Court has been delayed until next year amid questions about Desai’s competence to stand trial after several strokes.

Propofol is the same anesthetic at issue in the ongoing involuntary manslaughter trial in Los Angeles of Michael Jackson’s former physician, Conrad Murray. Authorities say Jackson died in June 2009 of acute propofol intoxication combined with other sedatives administered by Murray in the singer’s bedroom. Murray has pleaded not guilty.


Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/oskargarcia.

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