On July 24, a jury in Chicago federal court found in favor of plaintiff Jesse Mitchell, ordering drugmaker AbbVie to pay $150 million in damages for allegedly falsely marketing the benefits of its Androgel testosterone therapy drug, while not holding the company liable for a heart attack suffered by the plaintiff. This was the second of bellwether trials in a massive class action involving thousands of claims against AbbVie and other drugmakers, including Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline. The thousands of complaints have been consolidated by the country’s federal courts, and are being heard as a multi-district litigation Testosterone MDL 2545 AbbVie “Androgel” Briefcase, under U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.
Lawsuits dating to 2014, allege the testosterone replacement drugs were not only useless, but actually harmful, even though approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat testosterone deficiency, the claims allege the companies also falsely marketed the drugs to treat a variety of other conditions, including diabetes, AIDS, cancer, depression and anxiety. The lawsuits further allege the drugmakers invented a nonexistent condition called “andropause” or “low T,” which could be treated by testosterone replacement.
However, plaintiffs claim the drugs are not only ineffective for these off-label uses, but they increase the risk of heart attack, blood clots and stroke.
Judge Kennelly selected eight of the cases to move forward to trial. The first bellwether trial, in which plaintiff Jeffrey Konrad, claimed Androgel caused a heart attack, ended in a mistrial in June.
This trial where Mr. Mitchell, of Oregon, similarly asserted the drug had caused his heart attack, proceeded to the jury in July and after days of testimony and arguments in court, however, the jury refused to find AbbVie responsible for Mitchell’s condition.
The jury did say they believed AbbVie had falsely misrepresented the benefits of its testosterone therapy drug to Mitchell, and ordered the company to pay punitive damages of at least $150 million.
A lawyer for Mitchell did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Cook County Record on Monday.
In a brief emailed statement, a spokesperson for AbbVie noted “the jury found that Androgel did not cause any damage.”
“We expect the punitive damage award will not stand,” the statement said.
The verdict came over the strong objections of AbbVie, whose lawyers argued in court that they should not be held responsible for Mitchell’s condition or use of the drug.
In a motion for judgment filed July 17, the company noted even a doctor called by Mitchell’s attorneys conceded Mitchell was already at high risk for cardiac disease, without ever taking Androgel, because of his “several cardiac risk factors … including a 34-year smoking history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, obesity, a family history of heart disease, and lack of exercise.”
AbbVie also argued the jury could not find it had failed to warn of the risks of Androgel under federal rules and the company claimed the evidence demonstrated Mitchell had never heard of Androgel or any of its alleged “false claims” before his doctor prescribed it for him. And, AbbVie argued, Mitchell’s doctor “relied on his own training, experience and medical judgment, rather than anything said by (AbbVie), when making treatment decisions for Mr. Mitchell.”
“Finally, any suggestion that (Mitchell’s doctor) was somehow deceived or misled by (AbbVie’s) risk information is belied by the fact that he warned Mr. Mitchell of the potential cardiovascular risks,” with Judge Kennelly taking the motion “under advisement” on Friday, July 21 and subsequently denied. Resulting in the 2nd recent verdict against AbbVie, after having been found liable in the Depakote birth defect trial where the Illinois jury awarded $15 million to plaintiff Christine Raquel, after having been prescribed Depakote for bipolar depression.
Jesse Mitchell was represented the firms of Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Rafferty & Proctor, of Pensacola, Fla.; the Alvarez Law Firm, of Coral Gables, Fla.; Seeger Weiss, of New York; Goldberg & Osborne, of Tucson, Ariz.; Heard Robins Cloud, of Santa Monica, Calif.; and Douglas & London, of New York.
AbbVie was defended by the firm of Dechert LLP, of Princeton, N.J.
1 N Waukegan Rd
Lake Bluff, IL 60044
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
219 S Dearborn St
Chicago, IL 60604